Lobbying for the Moon


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Several news articles in the past few days, partly fueled by the make-up of some of the new members of Trump’s NASA transition team, have exhibited a strong push to get the new administration to restart the Bush administration’s goal of returning to the Moon.

All of this might happen. What these stories suggest to me is that the big contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin who are building SLS and Orion, are pushing the new administration to give this rocket and capsule a mission, something it presently does not have. At the same time, the stories might also indicate some of Trump’s typical and very smart negotiation tactics. Unlike Obama, who never knew how to play the game, Trump appears to understand that if he is going to institute major changes in NASA’s future projects, he needs to get Congress to agree.

Rather than eliminate SLS and Orion right off the bat, as Obama tried to do when he unilaterally cancelled Constellation, Trump could offer the Moon to Congress as an interim goal for this giant rocket and capsule. This was what both were really designed for initially, as they are essentially modern copies of the Saturn 5 and the Apollo capsule. In exchange, Trump could then get Congress to place more emphasis on commercial space needs, getting the competing privately built capsules and new cargo vessels (Dragon, Starliner, and Dream Chaser) better funded and built faster. He could also propose that NASA encourage private companies to compete to design and build lunar orbiting facilities, ideas that both Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK have been pushing now for several years.

I should note that giving a lunar goal to SLS/Orion does not mean that the program will get bigger or last significantly longer. Congress could simply fund one or two more missions through 2024. By that time, the competing successes of private space will make it very clear that this boondoggle is not the way to go into the future. By then, the new commercial space industry will have also grown enough that Congress will have no problem letting this industry replace SLS/Orion, and will thus have less objections in letting that program die.

I must also emphasize that I am speculating here. It is probably a bit soon to predict what a Trump administration will do with NASA and space. The signs however are pointing in this direction.

40 comments

  • Ted

    Good Morning Mr. Z and all the Behind the Black readers – a Very Merry Christmas and Holiday season to you all.

    My question is – and it might sound shallow or stupid – why send men or women when we have the technology to send robots or machines to either the moon or Mars?

    Sending human just really ramps up all the costs and worries. Machines have done a remarkable job in exploring, photographing, mapping and examining the moon and Mars. They require no food or water or shelter. We don’t have to worry about them being abandoned if something goes wrong.

    Our ability to design build and send remarkable machines to these two objects didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago (well at least in the current capacity ). Yes the Voyager twins continue to work and send information and they do so with not much more than 8 bit computers and low powered radios.

    I am all for exploration and science and discovery but at this point in time the costs in time, money, treasure etc seem to outweigh the gained benefits.

    Again Merry and Happy to you all!

  • PhC

    If NASA can only afford two or three SLS/Orion launches, then let’s make it count: Apollo 8 to Mars.
    Take advantage of the 2021 Mars-Venus free return window and actually go somewhere. I know it’s a serious stretch goal but perhaps the Inspiration Mars Orion-based studies are worth another look. It’s the kind of long-duration spaceflight R&D that a government space agency ought to be doing, and the kind of M.A.G.A demonstration that Trump would salivate over.

  • Ted: I have written about this question now for more than two decades. I can sum it up in one sentence: Why should the robots have all the fun?

    We explore because we are curious and want to see new worlds. The robots act as our scouting parties, but in the end we ourselves need to go, for our own benefit. That is the reason we do it, and if we do not go eventually ourselves, we fail to gain that benefit, for ourselves.

  • Ted, and Robert,

    I would suggest a different take on the humans vs. robots question. I would invite you to consider two fundamental facts about our civilisation:

    (1) Its key characteristic is the drive for growth in all senses – technological, spatial, population, economic, scientific.

    (2) Almost all of the opportunities for future growth are extraterrestrial, because almost all the material and energy resources of the universe are extraterrestrial.

    Therefore, if we value our civilisation and propose to maintain it into the long-term future, our most important task is to transfer growth off Earth and out into the Solar System.

    In centuries to come, the human population of the Solar System could be a large multiple of the maximum number who could possibly live on Earth alone.

    The only long-term security and sustainability of our culture is therefore a product of our setting up large-scale extraterrestrial settlements, starting in the next few decades.

    Best wishes,
    Stephen
    Oxford, UK.

  • Orion314

    I still believe the true heart of the problem with our current long-duration-man-in-space efforts, is the same problem it’s always been…not politics, nor $$$$$, nor hardware…it’s the DISASTEROUS EFFECTS of ZERO-G on the human body.,.until NASA comes to it’s senses and accepts this hard fact, LD manned space flight ain’t going to happen. Problem is there is a lot of money in the medical pork for ZERO-G and how bad it is on th the old bod.. but having 2 tin cans tied together with a cable , rotating to provide some G , is beyond consideration

  • Edward

    Ted asked: “My question is – and it might sound shallow or stupid – why send men or women when we have the technology to send robots or machines to either the moon or Mars?

    This question is fundamental, rather than shallow or stupid. It should be asked and answered with clarity of purpose.

    Why we send people is for reasons that are similar to why we take vacations to places we have never seen nor will those visits be of any material value for the personal resources that we expend to get there, yet we go anyway. We go for the experience and to personally explore, even when we are not the first to go there.

    For the Moon or for Mars, we have more material reasons to go in person. Remote exploration is time consuming. The slow progress of our robotic explorers demonstrates that some places can be more quickly explored by humans present at the site.

    Humans have better capability to effect repairs and to quickly assess and adapt to a situation for further exploration. When a fender is broken off a lunar roving vehicle, as on Apollo 17, the astronaut can quickly fix the problem and continue with the mission.

    Some interesting areas are now only partially explored by our robots before they must move on to the next interesting area, but humans present on the scene can spend the same amount of time exploring in great detail all the interesting aspects of an area and discover more items of interest in the same amount of time.

    The astronauts on the Moon did far better in exploring than robots could. They were able to recognize it when they found what they came for:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6MEh7qVsbM (3 minutes)

    Eventually, just as when Europeans came to the New World, economic reasons will drive the decisions to go to and expand into new worlds. But it will take the first people to go there to help determine the practicality of these decisions.

  • Edward: The clip you provided of the Apollo 15 astronauts working on the Moon, gathering one of the most important rock samples brought back during all the lunar landings, illustrated another basic reason for sending humans. It is thrilling to watch. These were human beings, walking on the Moon. If that fact doesn’t send chills of wonder up your spine than you are dead to what makes living worthwhile.

    We need to do it again, simply because it is is wonderful thing to do.

  • Vladislaw

    “Congress will have no problem letting this industry replace SLS/Orion”

    So Senators from space states, like Shelby, would be on board for shutting down SLS?

  • Vladislaw asked, “So Senators from space states, like Shelby, would be on board for shutting down SLS?” Maybe, if there was a large enough commercial space business to replace SLS.

    I am speculating. We must also remember that pork-masters like Shelby might not be around in a few more years. Moreover, a lot of my speculation includes sending money to the same companies that are building SLS in Alabama, so why would Shelby complain? Those companies won’t.

    As I say, I am speculating. I personally would rather that Trump didn’t go for a big space program, but instead offers incentives for private companies to do it. Right now however it is really too soon to predict anything, especially because I do not yet think Trump and his space adviser know themselves what they want to do.

  • Jim Jakoubek

    I for one am getting sick and tired of Mars.

    Let us face a fact. We just now have the basic tech needed to go to Mars and even then
    it will take a decade or so to make it happen if we really applied ourselves.

    The romance of it all is why all this talk is happening.

    The reality is that we can not do so and have those people come back or
    have them survive if they do not intend to do so.

    Would it not make sense to establish a colony on the Moon first? Make sure that
    that is possible and once the kinks have been worked out push on to Mars and make
    sure that will not die and then push out from there?

    Sorry to say, but the people that will live on Mars are yet to be born. We live in a time of transition
    where it is possible and we want to see it before death catches up with us.

    It is for us to lay the groundwork. We should be thinking and doing that.

  • wodun

    Robots or humans? Both.

    It would be easier to send humans to the Moon than Mars but in either case we need prospecting. Prospecting done by robots would be most effective if humans were within the cognitive horizon to allow for real time control.

    IMO, for the Moon and/or Mars, we need someplace for humans to be within the cognitive horizon. This could be a voyage in an actual space ship but for either destination, it would be great to have a space station.

  • Alex

    Jim Jakoubek: I agree completely.

  • Alex

    Edward: This is also cool stuff: Apollo 17 landing from PDI to Touchdown

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7y5feeMvEo

    Marry Christmas!

  • Steve Earle

    We have been watching the National Geographic Channel series “Mars” the last few weeks. I have found it to be an interesting take on “How We Could Go to Mars”

    They seem to have put a lot of thought into making the show as realistic as possible. Granted, I am no Rocket Scientist, but it seems as though what they propose could work.

    I agree with Bob and others above that Humans are born with a sense of curiosity and a need to expand. But that is not the primary reason why we should send humans to establish colonies ASAP.

    I’m actually surprised no one here has mentioned it yet, but Survival of the Species should be our number one concern.

    Until we have one or more (preferably more) self-sustaining colonies off-Earth, we are extremely vulnerable to any one of a number of catastrophes that could end civilization, our species, or all life on Earth depending on the type of event.

    We have right now perhaps our one and only opportunity to not go the way of the Dinosaurs. It would be a shame if we wasted it.

    Like the man who wishes he had put on his seat belt as he watches the dump truck coming at him in his lane, we don’t want to find ourselves wishing that some of us were safe when the E.L.E. sized asteroid is about to strike.

  • ken anthony

    Robots are tools, but with less capability than human hands and brains. The moon is a place we will visit. Mars is a place we will live. The moon will be a net importer. Mars will be an exporter.

    While the moon is easier to get to it can’t grow the way mars can because it lacks essential elements. It requires off moon resources and infrastructure.

    Mars has everything but the easiest thing to give it. Seeds. Mining and industry will expand as fast as we can get people there. Self funded we can get a lot of people there fast (Musk is starting too big with his colony transport, for now, and thinking too small by his traditional ticketing scheme.)

    Every time I hear about how limited life will be on mars I get disgusted because there is absolutely not one reason why that should be so. Some things will certainly take time but will occur faster than imagined if proper incentives exist.

    Does anyone understand what people have been capable of in the past? Don’t judge us by the wimps that exist today. Can do frontiersman still exist and set free will amaze. Martians will live in luxury that we can’t imagine today because there has never before been today’s technology with yesterdays freedom. That’s what mars is.

    Sell mars and the moon by plots in auction to anyone on earth and funding issues disappear.

    I suspect we will continue to learn the wrong lessons as we continue to do it wrong. The amount of wealth waiting for us is as hard to imagine as modern skyscraper cities to a one horse western town.

    If you ever lived in a small town over ten years ago I recommend you take a visit and see what it looks like now. Growth is not linear.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Edward: The clip you provided of the Apollo 15 astronauts working on the Moon … illustrated another basic reason for sending humans.

    Good catch. I missed it completely.

    Alex,
    Thanks for the video Christmas present. I enjoyed it immensely.

    ken anthony wrote: “Martians will live in luxury that we can’t imagine today because there has never before been today’s technology with yesterdays freedom. That’s what mars is.

    America is an example of this phenomenon. Two centuries after England colonized the American East Coast, European visitors were surprised at how well Americans lived, often better than Europeans, yet a mere two centuries earlier, the colonies were literally backwoods villages. This is what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about in his “Democracy in America.” The American colonists took advantage of their freedoms to advance very rapidly. There wasn’t anything special about the people, they were just like the rest of Europe; there was something special about the freedoms allowed by the governance of We the People. These freedoms allowed for exceptional accomplishments that those in less-free nations couldn’t conceive of trying.

    As pointed out in another thread:
    ‘I’m nauseatingly pro-American. It is where great things are possible.’
    — Elon Musk

    http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/what-happened-at-spacex-the-first-time-they-landed-a-first-stage/#comment-953740

    Several governments around the world are creating space programs, but in America there are now several companies creating their own space programs. This is indeed a great thing.

    Jim Jakoubek asked: “Would it not make sense to establish a colony on the Moon first? Make sure that that is possible and once the kinks have been worked out push on to Mars and make sure that will not die and then push out from there?

    This is, in fact, the basic argument that has been made for the past half century. Some believe this makes sense, others believe that we can succeed by going directly to Mars.

    The problem is that going to either one is often phrased as an either/or proposition. We either spend our money and resources going back to the Moon first or we spend them going to Mars first. Phrased that way, the argument must be made and decided.

    I see a different reality forming, due to the ability of commercial companies that are demonstrating that they now have the same spacefaring capabilities that only governments were capable of prior to Scaled Composites winning the Ansari X-Prize. Now that governments are becoming willing to purchase services from private space companies rather than putting up their own satellites, commercial space has demonstrated that a lot of money can be made in space.

    The profit motive presents us with the opportunity that commercial companies can put resources into going to both the Moon and Mars. Private companies are already planning — not just proposing — to do just that.

    Elon Musk has a plan to put people on Mars. He wants to actually live there and take other people there, meaning that someone who is already born intends to live there. He owns a company that could do it, with a little more research and development.

    Jeff Bezos plans to build a Moon rocket that he already calls New Armstrong, after the first person on the moon. He intends to take people back to the Moon. He owns a company that could do it, with a little more development.

    It is clear to me that we are on the verge of being able to do both simultaneously. The efficiencies that commercial space demands of itself makes it easier to accomplish more for less cost than government programs would be able to do.

    These efficiencies are demonstrated by the comparison of the development of SLS/Orion vs. the development of both the Commercial Resupply Services and Commercial Crew Development programs. Both programs in their entirety (development and operation) cost less than the development alone of the SLS, and possibly of the eventual development cost of Orion, alone.

    There are plenty of ideas for inexpensive ways to get to Mars and to the Moon. Robert Zubrin proposed Mars Direct. Paul Spudis has presented a case for a lunar base at one of the poles of the Moon, in order to supply water as a relatively inexpensive source of fuel and oxidizer to travel about the solar system, such as to Mars.

    Our experiences in space, including the several space stations, shows that we adapt fairly well. Early explorations of Mars are likely to come with return trips, allowing for testing of survival techniques and technologies to occur in place under the correct conditions with reduced risk to those going to Mars.

    This suggests that not only is the question rapidly becoming moot, because we no longer have to choose one over the other, but that going to the moon for water may reduce future costs of going to Mars. The reason to go to the Moon may be less for testing survival techniques and technologies and more for obtaining resources. The real question may be: can we get a lunar fuel-mine set up in time to assist the first manned mission to Mars?

  • Orion314

    My best argument for Moon over Mars base is: If we can’t sustain a viable outpost on a destination only 3 days away , complete with ready made unground massive caves.. then what are the chances for Mars?

  • Alex

    Orion214: Yes, you are right. We need Moon to learn to survive in such harsh alien environment in order to practice different procedures, materials, technics and technology, which are enable us to spread into Solar System, to Mars for example.

  • Edward

    Alex wrote: “We need Moon to learn to survive in such harsh alien environment in order to practice different procedures, materials, technics and technology, which are enable us to spread into Solar System, to Mars for example.

    Developing and practicing these things is why we spent so very much money on space stations.

    Whether we use this developed knowledge to go to the Moon or to Mars is the question. I believe that we can and soon will do both, but I do not believe that government programs will do it.

  • pzatchok

    Mars has nothing to send back to Earth. Not one single resource not found and mined easier on Earth or the Moon.

    In fact EVERYTHING on Mars is going to be needed and used by any colonists going there.

    In fact if anyone ever hopes of living on the surface without a dome then Mars will have to be terraformed. Which will mean a HUGE (trillions of tons) importation of water based asteroids to bring in atmosphere and water.
    Add in that expense and Mars will never be an exporter of anything but tourist trinkets.

    If your planning on living under domes for the rest of your stay you might as well just live closer and save the travel expense.
    Plus the cost of the gravity well. It costs more to launch Mars than the Moon.

    Unless all you want is bragging rights. then any expense is justified.

  • Alex

    Pzatchok: You hit the nail. Mars colonization is many centuries away from now and needs a detailed plan (lasting centuries) and involves terra-forming measures, which are even not yet known in detail. We can happy if a permanent, scientific Mars station/base (similar to that in Antarctica) is installed at Mars in 100 years from now. Meanwhile, we should propel all what support industrial usage of space, including Moon and lunar space. In addition let us install a permanent Moon base in next 20 years.

  • Steve Earle

    Resource commercialization will always have to be a consideration, but again, but at least at first its not what Mars is most valuable for. Mars will be a better place for a self-sustaining colony.

    Think of it this way: If you were an astronaut in space when word came that the Earth had been struck by a species-ending rock, would you rather be heading to the Moon, or to Mars, knowing it would now be for the rest of your life? And also knowing that you and your fellow astronaut/colonists will soon be the only humans left alive?

    I would rather be going to Mars. Neither is ideal in that situation, but Mars has an atmosphere and gravity. It’s not Earth, but would be the next best thing for now. Especially if the future of the Race is at stake.

    We need to establish colonies ASAP, before it’s too late. If we start on the Moon, that’s fine as long as we also go to Mars soon after. A Mars colony will give us a better chance at long term survival.

    I

  • Alex

    Steve Earle: I do understand the obsession (also shared by Elon Mask) with “end of mankind scenario”. It is completely unrealistic and somewhat hysterical. Think about the following: Even if an asteroid of size that ended dinosaurs are going to hit our home planet, the Earth will a 1000-times more friendly and life-supporting as Mars. We should install measures at Earth (as shelters) to protect our civilisation. Why to hell, you Americans have reach or gain all soon as possible? In reality we are not pressed for time.

  • Steve Earle

    Alex, I could possibly understand why you might think it is “unrealistic and somewhat hysterical” if it had never happened before, but it has. Numerous times over Earths history.

    Why do you think that it won’t happen again? What makes this time in history so special that we would be immune to it happening next week or next year?

    I also get that even a post-apocalyptic Earth might be easier to survive on than Mars or the Moon, but that thought is comforting only if there are humans left to survive on it. In most of these scenarios, it’s the initial impact and the immediate aftermath that is the worst, but it also may take years to grow plants and animals again. If we have a self-sustaining off-world colony, they can send people back to re-populate the Earth once it is habitable again.

    My understanding of the energies that could be released by an impact event are incredible, and if it’s big enough there won’t be anywhere on the Earth that would be guaranteed safe.

    I would absolutely be in favor of underground shelters here on Earth, but I don’t see any real support right now for that and it will be too late if we wait until we see an asteroid or comet coming our way. I do however see some political support for off-world colonies, or at least expeditions that could lead to colonies.

    In my opinion we should do both if we can. It’s never a good idea to have all of your eggs in one basket…..

  • Alex

    Steve Earle: Maybe, we shall go Mars and start there a new civilization, because we have to flee before Moslems, Liberals, Leftists, Cultural Marxists, Progressists and other morons. :-)

  • Edward

    pzatchok wrote: “Mars has nothing to send back to Earth. Not one single resource not found and mined easier on Earth or the Moon.

    Perhaps nothing physical, but there may be intellectual properties that could be inexpensively sent back to Earth.

    So far, our space stations have not sent back much physical material that was made more valuable by being in space, yet we still expect that space stations will provide value to us. We have learned much from these space stations, and we do not see an end to their usefulness any time soon.

    The remoteness will undoubtedly be the mother of Martian invention. Martians will find solutions to problems that we currently see as too minor to bother solving. Perhaps they will come up with plants that grow ten times as much food per acre as we currently do now.

    My expectation is that Martians will have an incentive to create efficient methods or materials, the knowledge of which they can sell to Earth. I expect them to invent robots that not only will help them on Mars but whose designs will be valuable on Earth, too.

    There is also the possibility that they will invent materials that are valuable enough for their weight that they will be worth sending back while keeping the manufacturing knowledge, the intellectual property, to themselves.

    Just because we are not inventing better efficiencies while we are well fed in the comfort of our heated and air-conditioned buildings does not mean that more efficiency is impossible.

  • pzatchok

    Edward

    The remoteness of Mars will not be the mother of invention.

    Even if Mars does someday have a million people on it why do you think they will have a better chance at making scientific progress better than 5 billion+ people on Earth?
    That’s not logical thinking thats wishful thinking.

    The Earth was not conquered all at once but in small manageable steps. We have already made the first small step into semi-permanence in LEO. and are on the edge of making the next step into semi-permanence on the Moon.
    We can use the Moon as the testing area for all the technology we would need to live on Mars. But we can not use Mars as the test bed for itself. Its just to far away in case of emergency.

    And as for an end of mankind event (meteor) wiping out ALL of mankind.
    Sorry but Dinos were not intelligent and thus not masters of their environment. We are. Never has all life been wiped out on Earth. We will find something that survives to eat and we will move to livable areas. Sorry for the slow and weak but hey mankind will live.

    The Moon is the next step.
    The bad thing is the Moon will not get a permanent colony until it becomes militarily significant to several nations of the Earth, then we will all race to make the moon a permanent colony. Sadly lives might be lost.

  • Edward

    pzatchok,
    You wrote: “Even if Mars does someday have a million people on it why do you think they will have a better chance at making scientific progress better than 5 billion+ people on Earth?

    Because there will only be one million people on it. They will not have the human resources to get done all they need to do. They will have to find other methods to accomplish their goals. Robots, more efficient and effective methods, efficient farms, and different tools will be what they need, and they will have incentive to make them happen.

    They do not have to out-invent Earth, just invent differently.

    And: “We can use the Moon as the testing area for all the technology we would need to live on Mars.

    True. We can. Unfortunately for your argument, there are people who wish to go straight to Mars without using the Moon as a testing ground.

    And: “But we can not use Mars as the test bed for itself.

    Untrue. It would merely be a more difficult and dangerous test bed.

    You missed the comment, above, where I said our space stations already are test beds.

    And: “The Moon is the next step.

    And there are plenty of people willing to go there sooner. Whether they get there before Musk gets to Mars is the question. It would be nice for the resources of the Moon to be used to go to Mars.

    The bad thing is the Moon will not get a permanent colony until it becomes militarily significant

    I think you may be surprised by those who would make a colony before this occurs. Like you, I do not see the Moon becoming militarily significant any time soon. Unlike you, I do not see the Moon becoming militarily significant until after there is at least one colony, not just base.

  • pzatchok

    I actually believe that in the next 100 years our science in all fields will have made us capable of living in deep space permanently. With no support from Earth or any other planet.

    We will harvest from space itself and finally be ready to make the generations long travel to other habitable planets.
    But by then after living their whole life in space will our children even want to live on them? Some will, I hope, and those are the new colonists we need.
    They will have the knowledge, the ability and hopefully the patience to terraform any planet close to supporting human life.

    By the time we are ready to make Mars a permanent colony with a chance to be self sustaining we will be ready to give up planets and really travel the stars.

  • pzatchok

    Musk is going for the ‘Me first’. He has NO real plans to make a permanent base.

    Thinking about it, exactly how much of Mars can be explored from a single stationary base on the surface. Not much.
    It would be better to make a permanent space station orbiting Mars and use that to send down landers for exploration. Use that to find the best site for a permanent surface base.

    You can build the station in Earth orbit and then move it to a Mars orbit. Use the lowest energy trajectory since we have years to finally place it in orbit. You don’t even have to man it until it gets to Mars.

  • Alex

    pzatchok:

    I would like to provoke you (and Edward) somewhat:

    I remember to a time, at which often was proposed that men shall live undersea or even at more shallow sea floors permanently. The ocean has much more resources as Mars: unlimited water, oxygen from water, nutrients, already existing food (plants, animals, …), correct gravity, ideal radiation protection, …. However, nobody has been selected to live there! The idea seems to be dead.

    Why not bring life to Earth’s desert (free places at Earth!!!) incl. men, instead to Mars? Much better resources again (air, gravity, water in ground, ..), much easier transportation.

  • wayne

    Interesting thoughts by all.;

    Personally, I favor targetting the Moon, primarily because of distance. (and we should abrogate any Treaties that would be an obstacle to the USA controlling the Moon.)
    Everything (every single thing) that currently goes into space, is parasited from the Earth.
    3 days vs. 6 months travel-time, is also a key limiting factor. Not to mention radiation exposure & jello-muscles from the trip.

    If we use the Praire settler analogy– those settlers had iron axes and hand-tools.(and still a lot of them died in the process.) Simple tools which required a massive infrastructure & specialization, already in place. Try forging an axe blade or a plow, without all that accumulated knowledge and infrastructure.

    –brief blurb on what John Smith thought the Pilgrims should bring with them to the new world:
    http://www.rhinobldg.com/iron-and-steel-tools-forged-the-new-world/

    I would put forth the proposition; we are somewhat blinded by our currently existing division of labor, as it relates to the desire to colonize another (alien) world.
    It requires complex technology & knowledge, that no single person can pull off, without continuous inputs from Earth.

    Those microchips from Intel– require a $5 billion fabrication plant + thousands of people, to produce just one of them. (and represent perhaps, the ultimate division of labor) And they currently must be produced in our existing gravity, with our existing knowledge and materials. Try making the simplest polymer, without an immense petrochemical infrastructure in place. The chemistry is simple, acquiring the raw materials– not so much.

    We have a situation in play, which will require utilizing all of our most complex technology, to simply travel to an alien world, where building even the most simple survival structures in situ, will be a distinctly low-tech endeavor. Unless you want to ship everything into space.
    If we try to just transfer our currently existing lifestyle to Space, we are doomed to failure. For me, this is going to require a blend of the ultra complex + the extremely simple, just to pull off, it’s going to require new ways of thinking that don’t include a primary reliance on earth-based manufacturing or supply, after a time-certain.

    I like Mars, and wish Musk great success. But if he thinks he will be using his cell-phone on Mars and streaming Netflix, he’s mistaken.

    As to people getting killed in space; it will happen, without a doubt.
    How we actually deal with that eventuality, will tell me a lot as to how serious we are about this whole Adventure, Moon or otherwise.

  • Alex: Quote from the Wikipedia Global Catastrophic Risks page – “According to the Future of Humanity Institute, human extinction is more likely to result from anthropogenic causes than natural causes”.

    Re: Humans vs robots, for the same cost we could send sample-collecting rovers to far many more dispersed locations on Mars than we could send astronauts too. The robots would have the same perceptive abilities as the top scientists controlling them. Yes, they would be slower than humans but they could remain on duty far longer, and again, for the same cost the robots could explore many more locations for more unique sampling. A rover with a sampling drill could have easily obtained a sample from the rock seen in that Apollo 15 video.

    Finally, settlement doesn’t have to be some far-down-the-line thing. One would need large inflatable habitats, covered with regolith pushed on top, an indoor centrifuge, harvesting local water ice and organics, a power system, and supplies of the hard-to-develop technologies and materials. These are very achievable on either the Moon or Mars shortly upon the arrival of crew. Producing all types of supplies in situ in order to secure humanity would be more challenging but potentially doable.

  • Ken Anthony: Please educate me. What elements are missing on the Moon? LCROSS demonstrated water and organics. The Apollo samples showed a number of other elements. What is the Moon lacking? Also, if it lacks something, wouldn’t a tonne of that material delivered from Earth last a base which recycled a very long time?

  • Steve Earle

    pzatchok said:
    “….And as for an end of mankind event (meteor) wiping out ALL of mankind.
    Sorry but Dinos were not intelligent and thus not masters of their environment. We are. Never has all life been wiped out on Earth. We will find something that survives to eat and we will move to livable areas. Sorry for the slow and weak but hey mankind will live….”

    I don’t believe I ever said ALL life, as it would admittedly be pretty hard to kill ALL life, but not nearly as hard to kill all larger land mammals for instance…. It has already happened several times in the past with Mass Extinction Events.

    I also never said that a meteor is the only way to trigger an ELE, there are several ways that could happen and as DougSpace pointed out, there are several ways that we could do it to ourselves.

    Would there still be some surviving humans? Maybe, maybe not. As I said above there is no will to build underground shelters in the size necessary for a healthy breeding population, and as Alex pointed out there isn’t even the will to create undersea habitats let alone sizable undersea colonies.

    Only in space do we find the interest and political will to send expeditions and eventually build colonies. We should take advantage of that will while we can for several reasons not the least is the guaranteed survival of the species.

    WIKI: “… An extinction event (also known as a mass extinction or biotic crisis) is a widespread and rapid decrease in the biodiversity on Earth. Such an event is identified by a sharp change in the diversity and abundance of multicellular organisms. It occurs when the rate of extinction increases with respect to the rate of speciation. Because the majority of diversity and biomass on Earth is microbial, and thus difficult to measure, recorded extinction events affect the easily observed, biologically complex component of the biosphere rather than the total diversity and abundance of life.[1]…”

    “….Estimates of the number of major mass extinctions in the last 540 million years range from as few as five to more than twenty. These differences stem from the threshold chosen for describing an extinction event as “major”, and the data chosen to measure past diversity…”

  • pzatchok

    I remember Jacque Cousteau. Watched every week.
    Living under the ocean is a nice idea but again unless you want to live under domes for the rest of history it is not a permanent solution to anything.
    And to top it off you have no hope at all of ever walking around outside the dome without life support equipment. You stand no chance of terraforming the ocean to support you.

    Though a viable population of humans could live in several nuclear subs for several years and harvest from the oceans until isolated islands could be made livable. Then move back to the mainland as it becomes viable. And this plan could be implemented after the event starts.

  • Steve Earle

    I hadn’t thought of commandeering the Nuclear Sub Fleet to act as a kind of Noahs Ark(s)…. Actually not a half bad idea if the conditions are right and the ELE, whatever it might be, spares the Oceans and enough sea life to live off of.

    Almost like the plot of “On the Beach” where the US Nuclear Submarine flees to Australia after a nuclear war.

    Of course my central issue remains: Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. Black Swan events are by definition rare, but when one does happen I would want as many Plan B’s as possible :-)

  • Steve Earle

    And now that I think about it, that is almost the exact plot of the movie “2012” with John Cusack

    2012 is one of those movies that show up in my channel surfing that I can’t resist watching again, the special effects were literally earth-shattering LOL!

  • Edward

    Alex asked: “Why not bring life to Earth’s desert (free places at Earth!!!) incl. men, instead to Mars?

    Actually, we have. People live in all kinds of deserts, on Earth. Los Angeles (4 million people in the city, 13 million in the metropolitan area) is even said to be in a desert, but I think it was more of a chaparral before the city grew there; either way, the “river” is a joke and wouldn’t even be considered a creek in most places. In addition, those 4 million people grow grass lawns and orange groves where none grew a few hundred years ago.

    Why don’t we live underwater, as was once predicted? Because we don’t yet need to mine or manufacture anything there. It does not take an expensive rocket launch to get material into the sea; it takes an easy boat ride, so mining on land and taking the manufactured materials out to sea is the better option. Getting material to space is much more expensive and difficult. If we are to set up solar power plants in Earth orbit to beam power back to the earth (leaving millions of acres on Earth free for more productive uses than as solar power farms), the material cannot economically come from the Earth.

    If we are to eventually “travel the stars,” as pzatchok suggests, then we will have to build the “star ships” in space, not on Earth, and that will require space-based mining and manufacturing.

    wayne,
    Going to the moon had been my first choice for decades, too, and for similar reasons that many people have presented here: easier and safer development of bases and colonies, and once they were developed, Mars would quickly follow.

    I no longer see the either/or option; I now see that — like it or not — people will go to both nearly simultaneously.

    However, I do not believe that governments will go to Mars any time soon. They are too safety conscious. It will look bad for them to have anyone killed performing such explorations, just as all the astronaut deaths looked bad, and the US deaths all resulted in very public and critical investigations.

    wayne wrote: “We have a situation in play, which will require utilizing all of our most complex technology, to simply travel to an alien world, where building even the most simple survival structures in situ, will be a distinctly low-tech endeavor.

    I think this is the great advantage of the invention of 3D printing (additive manufacturing). It vastly simplifies the manufacturing process with less waste and a potentially more rapid ore-to-product time.

  • AndrewZ

    Trump should give NASA the mission of building a large-diameter rotating space station that could be spun at different speeds to simulate the effects of different levels of gravity. To avoid “scope creep” and excessive costs it should be designed solely to test the effects of different levels of gravity on the human body and to validate the design of life-support equipment for those conditions. The second function is an inevitable consequence of the first.

    The scientific and technological case for the “gravity wheel” is that this knowledge is extremely important to the future exploration of space. For example, if living under lunar gravity has similar effects to living under micro-gravity then that defines what exercise programs the inhabitants of a moon base must follow and how often the crew must be rotated. If those effects would happen on the moon but not Mars, it makes Mars a better environment for long-term settlement.

    The economic case is that knowing the answer to this question in advance will prevent costly mistakes.

    The political case is that it would probably cost less than a return to the moon and certainly less than a manned mission to Mars. It would take less time to develop and would allow the administration to claim that it was getting results fast. It would provide a mission for SLS and Orion, to launch the large components and transport the crews. I’m assuming that Trump’s campaign rhetoric about creating jobs makes it politically impossible to cancel SLS or Orion as too many jobs depend on them. It would be something new and attention-grabbing, and could be presented as an expression of American technological leadership and self-confidence. Its impact on the future direction of space exploration would also give the Trump administration a long-term legacy in space.

    What other project can you think of that would have the same combination of practical utility and political viability?

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