Why Mars?

by guest blogger Ken

I think that the more space-related powerpoint presentations I see, the more discouraged I become. I unfortunately didn’t have an opportunity to see the Lunar Architecture Team presentation, as I was on a road trip to Austin to meet with some representatives from the Governor’s Office about potential ISDC interactions. I did download the slides, courtesy of Hobbyspace, and read a whole bunch of news articles. I also got the transcript from SpaceRef. Looking through the slides, I realize that I probably should see the presentation but it’s interesting to look at the materials without the accompanying chatter. There are a lot of things that stand out, especially in the use of language. Reading further through the transcript, I had a hard time putting commentary with slides so I’ll save that for after the slide analysis.

The 2nd slide lays out certain sections of the report “A Renewed Spirit of Discovery”
-Bullet 3 notes that NASA is to “Develop and fly the CEV no later than 2014 (goal of 2012)”. Personally I would have phrased it ‘Develop and fly the CEV by 2012 (no later than 2014)’.
-Bullet 7 indicates that NASA is to “Develop supporting innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures” I see this as NACA type language, as with Bullet 3, wherein nothing is said about building the transport mechanism to launch the CEV, rather that the CEV be built and flown by this date. Subtle message – get a private launcher, not develop a private launch system.
-The last Bullet notes that NASA is to “Promote international and commercial participation in exploration”. Unfortunately, NASA seems to be taking the order of the wording to heart, and is going gangbusters on the international part of it. My hope is that Griffin continues to get snubbed as others begin to realize that they might be able to put together a little something-something by themselves, and is forced to refocus on U.S. ideas, technologies and hardware that could be of use on the Moon. Like that Caterpillar contract that got cancelled.
-The summation quotes from the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 “The Administrator shall establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the Moon, including a robust precursor program to promote exploration, science, commerce and U.S. preeminence in space…blah, blah Mars blah. At least Congress got it right and recognized that U.S. commerce is really important, and so is U.S. pre-eminence in space. We should be the ones making the products and services in space that the rest of the world buys for a fair price, because ours are the best products and we’re the best at defining new markets.

Moving on to Slide 3 we see what NASA derived from the Vision, the first thing that stands out is Bullet 2: Provide the US Transportation and certain exploration infrastructure.

Wow. There’s your ESAS right there. NASA read the VSE and saw “Provide the US Transportation infrastructure”. Not just fly the CEV, but “Provide the US Transportation infrastructure” to do so. Um…didn’t we already go through this with the STS as the “US Transportation infrastructure”? Perhaps there are other paths to consider.

Slide 4 is a standard “We start with the big picture and work down to the detailed design”. The Global Exploration Strategy Development points to Themes & Objectives

Six themes are identified in Slide 5:
-Human Civilization
-Global Partnerships
-Scientific Knowledge
-Economic Expansion
-Exploration Preparation
-Public Engagement

Slide 6 asks us “What is a ‘Global Exploration Strategy’?”
Strategy answers the following questions:
-Why we are going back to the Moon
-What we hope to accomplish once there

There’s some materials from NASA here.

Slide 8 turns out to be very important. This is where NASA shows how the ‘Objectives of Interest’ box flows into the ‘Campaign Team’ box which then flows into the ‘Focus Elements’ of the study. These focus elements are:

Lander Design
Power System
Surface Mobility
Robotic Systems
Science Capability

These tie in to the summaries of the the varied study groups they’ve put together. These are found here. Obviously these are also elements that NASA would be very comfortable with.

In slide 14 we finally get to the answer of “Why we are going back to the Moon”: Human missions will be used to build an outpost at a polar site.

This is actually a good thing, even if NASA is going about it all wrong. A polar base offers the highest concentration of beneficial elements for setting up shop and doing interesting work. The right approach is to build our capabilities in cislunar space in a stepwise fashion to EML-1, and from there you can go anywhere on the Moon’s surface 24/7, making the entire Moon much more accessible for sortie missions. Like a South Polar Base, an EML-1 station offers a strong nexus of benefits.

Slide 15 provides the answer of what we hope to accomplish there –

2025 Capabilities
-Mature transportation system
-Closed loop habitat
-Long duration human missions beyond LEO
-Surface EVA and mobility
-Autonomous operations
-Advanced robotic missions
-Minimize reliance on Earth via In-situ fabrication and resource utilization
-Enhanced by Commercial and International Partners

It’s sort of odd that 1/3rd of the presentation separates the strategy from the answers. And the answers aren’t really highlighted, but buried off to the side.

Slide 16 gets to the crux of the matter. Bullet 1: “The US (read: NASA) will build the transportation infrastructure and initial communication and navigation and initial EVA”.

So, as NASA sees it, if you want to go to the Moon, for example with an “external development of lunar surface infrastructure” you will travel the US Lunaway in a US Lunatruck on its bi-annual Moon run. Of course, “External parallel development of NASA developed capabilities will be welcomed”.

Meaning that if you don’t want to take the NASA (I mean: US) Lunaway and have your cargo to the Moon delivered in a US Lunatruck, you can go and build your own transport system to get it there, or buy a ride from the Russians.

The thing is, that’s exactly what folks are starting to look at. Like Jon here at the Selenian Boondocks, and the folks at Lockheed Martin, and the Space Frontier Foundation, and elsewhere. If a business person looks at putting an asset on the Moon, the first thing he should look into is getting it there, and NASA has proven to be a less than reliable provider of transport in that regard. It proved difficult to work with on Shuttle payloads, eventually driving off even the die-hard folks like 3M. Access to station time has proven pretty wimpy given the constraint on astronaut time. That NASA hasn’t looked into someone underwriting a private researcher trip for 6 months on the ISS is kind of disappointing to me.

The folks with Hitchhicker and GASCan payloads know the drill. Paying for the trip does not move you ahead of the people that NASA is paying for, and if NASA determines that a payload is more scientifically interesting than your commercial payload you can get bumped. That’s not very compelling for someone thinking about sending something to the Moon. More than likely he’s going to be hitchhiking his business assets in available space between MREs and scientific instruments. The transport volume is also constrained by the mission planning capabilities of NASA. It would be very difficult for them to ramp up to higher levels of launchings commensurate with increased business interest in the greyfields of the Moon.

Slide 17 offers up the myriad ways in which private industry can provide goods and services for NASA to buy. Once these are created by private industry, other ventures will come in and also purchase Moon equipment, which NASA can then transport to the Moon for them.

Finally, slide 18 offers a roadmap of forward work through July of next year, including the design of a Mars Reference Mission.

I noted over at Space Politics that I was underwhelmed by the presentation, and that remains my position. It was actually strengthened when I went to the underlying ‘Objectives’ work and saw all of the neat comments and suggestions (found here). There could have been a really compelling presentation made of what we can do there, but instead we got a rather milquetoast slideshow on a Moonbase.

The ‘Objectives’ materials are the best part of what’s been created. One has to be careful though, and ignore the general categorizations to get to the meat of what was created, usually in columns 4 & 5, but the theme choices can be interesting as well as far as what NASA sees as economic development. It’s a bit of a slog, but NASA has been given all of the right pieces to enable a robust and sustainable return to the Moon that will be a piece in unlocking the Solar System for humanity.

My 20 step program is:
1) Solve the Earth to Orbit problem.
2) Finish ISS to free up cash flows. Auction off unused pieces.
3) Test deeper space vehicle out to GEO.
4) Test deeper space vehicle out to EML-1.
5) Drop off instruments at EML-1.
6) Set up shop at EML-1. It provides a flexibility you just can’t get from LEO.
7) Build a more convenient LEO harbor (they’re all the same to L-1) and set up regular L-1/LEO trips
8) From EML-1 go to
(a) Lunar poles
(i) south
(ii) north,
(b) mare/highland interface at northern latitudes (mare frigorus),
(c) Fra Mauro / Aristarchus (vent gases?) / Copernicus
(d) Far side.
The d-V is the same everywhere from L-1 (~2.52km/s each way), trip time 1 day.
9) From EML-1 drop back to GEO to clean out garbage/service useful assets, prep for SPSes.
10) From EML-1 visit NEAs of interest (having been previously catalogued by initial L-1 instrument package).
11) From EML-1 deploy network of Neighborhood Watch probes to solar system lagrange points, station modules to Sun-Mars L-1.
12) From Moon export LOX, processing slag heat shields, raw regolith for Martian greenhouses, other volatiles from SWIE processing, spacecraft structural elements, other raw materials, SPS elements, &c.
13) From EML-1 launch first crewed mission to Martian space to complete SML-1 station. It makes a statement that we are a space faring and not just space visiting civilization, and half the planet would get to watch the departure by looking up.
14) Put a Venus Equilateral Station in position, get some working solar sails.
14) Go to Sun-Mars L-1 and set up shop. Start forwarding stuff to wherever they’ve decided to set up shop on Mars.
(because by this point we should be able to competently robotically construct a simple base)
15) Crewed missions to Phobos & Deimos (to set up lidar stations to study the atmosphere better for the aerobraking and parachute entry, duh).
16) Crewed mission to Mars.
17) Crewed mission from SML-1 to Ceres.
18) Stockpile on Ceres from Mars (O2, CH4, H2O, &c.), Earth/Moon system.
19) Set up shop on Ceres.
20) The Solar System is ours, baby!

But I digress. The transcript basically punts on the question of non-NASA access to NASA facilities on the Moon. So if ‘Give-em-Goff LunaXport’ lands a cargo at Shackleton base he may or may not be allowed in to ply his wares.

One item that pricked up my ears was D.A. Dale noting a NASA Advisory Council meeting in February 2007. February 2007 also happens to be the date of the International Space Unviersity’s 11th Annual Symposium “Why the Moon?”, which as it turns out is being sponsored by NASA. The NAC meets Feb 8-9th, while the ISU Symposium is Feb 21-23rd.

Why the Moon? In a nutshell, ’cause yo Daddy said so.

Regular readers will remember that I submitted an abstract for a paper for consideration by the Program Committee of the Symposium, and was declined a presentation but offered a spot in the Poster Session (which generally seemed to be the case for ISU alumni). Ultimately, I realized that my objective was to have a paper published in the proceedings, and absent that possibility it didn’t really make sense to spend in excess of $2,000 to spend 4 hours at the poster session. From ISU’s side, they know which side their butter is breaded on and in all honesty without the support of these organizations and companies ISU would not exist as we know it today, which is much better than when I went there and they were renting space in a really cool building whose architecture was based on the ecliptic.

So what am I missing out on? Here’s an outline of the proceedings:

Session I: Destination Moon (A review of goals and plans for Lunar exploration)
-Role of the Moon in ESA’s Reference Scenario for European Space Exploration (ESA)
-Why the Moon? A European Industry and Henry the Navigator’s View (Astrium)
-Contributions to Space Exploration: Global Objectives, Plans & Capabilities (AAS/GMU)
-Historical Allegory and the US Lunar Exploration Program (NASA ESMD)
-Italian Vision for Moon Exploration (ASI)
-China’s Programs and Plans for New Generation Launchers and Lunar Missions (CASC)
-Space Exploration Cooperation in an International Lunar Decade (Plantary Society)

Session II: The Moon as a Stimulus for Public Engagement
-International Lunar Missions: Possibilities of Cross Cultural and International Education and Public Outreach (SETI)
-The Moon as Classroom: a Program for Hands-On Educational Engagement (ISU)
-Reasons for University Interests in Accomplishing a Lunar Exploration Mission
-The European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO) (ESA/ESTEC)
-The Moon in Mythology, Art and Literature (ESA/ESTEC)

Session III: Scientific Investigations at the Moon
-Scientific Investigations in the Japanese Lunar Exploration Program (JAXA)
-Supporting Human Lunar Exploration: Dust Analysis on the Moon (NASA Ames, UColorado, Max Planck)
-LIFE: Lunar Infrastructure for Exploration – A Lunar Infrastructure for Long Wavelength Astronomy (ASTRON)
-Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission and Overview (NASA Goddard)
-Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon, Interim Report of the Committee
-SMART-1 Highlights, Science Results and Perspectives (ESA)
-Moon Internal Structure: Recent Highight on the Crust and Core and Importance of a Future Seismic and Geophysical Network (IPGP/UND/JPL)
-The Moon: An Object Lesson in Integrative Planetary Science (NASA Ames)
-Astronomy Enabled by the Human Return to the Moon (NASA Goddard/UT)

Session IV: The Moon as a Technology Driver and a Test-Bed for Further Exploration
-Overview of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Development & Planning within NASA (NASA JSC/KSC/GRC)
-Lunar Scientific Precursor Mission Proposal w/Multidisciplinary Payload – AstroHab
-Implications of Maximizing Lunar Science Achievement on Orion/CEV & Lunar Rovers (LM)
-Space Robotics & International Human and Robotic Lunar Exploration Endeavour
-Lunar Exploration Architecture (Alcatel)

Session V: The Moon as a Business Opportunity
-Detailed Description of Global Exploration Strategy Lunar Commerce Objectives (NASA ESMD)
-In-Situ Resources on the Moon – their Processing and Utilization (DLR)
-Attracting Private Capital: Lining Investors and Entrepreneurs (Boeing)
-Space Exploration Innovations & Impacts on Real Economy Triggered by Lunar Exploration

Session VI: Legal and Policy Issues in Returning to the Moon
-Transporting a Legal System for Property Rights: From Earth to the Moon
-Autonomous European Lunar Exploration – Entry Point for a Global Cooperation (EADS)
-Building & Maintaining the Constituency for Long-term Space Exploration (GMU)
-Cooperative Framework for Exploration of the Moon – From Legal Perspectives (JAXA)
-The Case for Managed International Cooperation in Space Exploration (CSIS)
-Establishing a Strategic Framework for Global Space Exploration: a European View (ESA)
-Legal Solutions to Govern the Exploitation of the Moon’s Natural Resources (IDEST)

There are 42 posters by my count. There are actually a few that interest me, and had they been presentations I’d probably be more inclined to go. These include:
-Utilization of the Earth-Moon Libration Points in a Long-term Exploration Scenario
-The Moon as an Essential Stepping Stone for Humanity in its Preparation to Further Explore the Nearby Solar System and Eventually Become a Multi-Planetary Species
-FERTILE Moon: Feasibility of Extraction of Resources and Toolkit for In-Situ Lunar Exploration (ISU 06 MSS)
-LunaGaia: A Closed Loop Habitat for the Moon (ISU 06 SSP)
-Environmental Design for a Moonbase
-M.U.L.E. – A Robotic Field Assistant for Lunar Astronauts (MDA)
-Segmented Moon Approach and Return Transportation (SMART) (ISU 05 MSS)
-Space Industry Intellectual Property Management: Rules and a Roadmap of Rising Relevance

So there’s a lot of pithy stuff in there. If you’re looking to learn more about what the establishment is doing in regards to Lunar efforts, this is probably as good a place as any to get your Moon game on in 2007.

Now, if you’re looking to learn more about going to the Moon and setting up shop there, then keep an eye on the Moon & Cislunar Space Development track at the NSS’s 2007 International Space Development conference in Dallas in May of 2007. I’ll be working with Peter Kokh of the Moon Society, and long-time editor of the Moon Miner’s Manifesto, to help get speakers and topics arranged. We’ve put out the initial track guide here, and after a few formalities at NSS HQ we’re going to have the formal “Call for Papers” for the International Space Development Conference 2007: ‘From Old Frontiers to New’.

It’s amazing the people who are coming to us with ideas that they want to work on (though I don’t want to upset the plans of a certain pundit by spilling the beans on one really exciting option). Luckily we have a large amount of space available to us, and if the registrations are good (prices go up the end of the year!) we will have the capability to present a lot of really informative space presentations, sessions, plenaries, dinners, luncheons, tours and more! NASA will most likely be there (I hope so, they always have the greatest exhibits!), but we want a choir of voices to charm the public.

But I digress again…With all of the benefits available in cislunar space, and on our Moon, the question can reasonably wander around to “Why Mars?” What does Mars offer the Earth that is superior to the many benefits of focusing on developing a space-faring, and not just space-visiting, presence in cislunar space, on the Moon, at nearby NEAs of interest, in Martian space, out to Ceres and the Asteroid Belt, consolidate our wealth there and then push on out to the Moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and to the Ceres of the Kuiper Belt, Pluto. By that point these neighborhoods will each have been familiar territory from the fleet of probes sent all those years ago out from, and serviced by, EML-1 to all those destinations and their lagrange points via the Interplanetary Superhighways.

So why is “T H E – G O A L” Mars? I don’t get it, and I’ll explain why I’m so confused next time around.

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4 Responses to Why Mars?

  1. Bill White says:

    Ken, you offer a great deal of material and my point is a limited one yet potentially essential.

    I am thrilled beyond measure that the private sector is looking at doing parallel missions to the NASA moon base. It will be impossible to become spacefaring until significant amounts of non-taxpayer funds are plowed into space travel. $16 billion per year (NASA’s budget) is insufficient whether we use shuttle derived, EELV or fancy new RLVs.

    If NASA were to go the Atlas V CEV route then the Lockheed shareholders would not permit the company to voluntarily undercut its ability to feed off the CEV gravy train by man-rating Atlas V at a price point Bigelow can afford. Freezing EELV out of CEV forces LM to look to alternate funding to man-rate and deploy an Atlas V crew taxi and to look at architectures such as Jon Goff’s excellent ideas and then do it in an economical way non-NASA customers can afford.

    If Griffin offers strong non-financial support to a Bigelow hotel adjacent to the NASA moonbase, that will benefit private space far far more than NASA buying EELVs.

    = = =

    Why Mars? Many people desire Mars.

    The Moon is for commerce. I want the private sector to develop its own parallel non-NASA transport system ASAP and then let NASA by-pass the Moon to stay out of the way.

    I agree an EML-1 and EML-2 system is the best way to go. I simply do not want those facilities to be under NASA’s operational control.

    = = =

    Griffin is forcing LM to close its business case without Uncle Sam’s sugar.

    Excellent, say I!

  2. kert says:

    Some wailing over fears of reduced martian exploring activities in Space.com today..
    NASA’s decision to focus on lunar exploration is “ill-timed” given that the Mars missions have revealed a great deal about the planet’s ancient history, said Kenneth Herkenhoff, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist

    Well, mr. Scientist there hasnt obviously noted the complete absence of Lunar missions heading out in recent years. So with all missions going to Mars, how could the revelations come anywhere but Mars ?

    I wish Space.Com had comments just below the article ..

  3. murphydyne says:

    The better comment was later in the article when Mr, Herkenhoff added “We’re currently drowning in data and more is expected. We need more graduate students involved, not fewer.”

    Wait, so we have too much data for the people that work in the field, and therefore should continue sending missions to Mars? How do we know if the instruments are going to be any good if we haven’t analyzed all of the data we’ve already paid for.

    Personally, I think that if some of the scientific communities focused a bit more on data management and retrieval methodology over the next couple of years, maybe decade, instead of on having meetings on more missions and hardware to Mars, then we may end up in a better position both in terms of making sure we’re looking for the right data with the next set of instruments, as well as increasing the sophistication of our research by improved library functions that really incorporate the internet as well as printed materials.

    A long winded way of saying that I am entirely in favor of a slowdown in both Martian/Jovian/Saturn[al]ian studies, as well as interstellar studies.

    We should look at the kinds of things we’re looking to do in cislunar space over the next couple of decades, and how that can be of benefit to future scientific missions. Things like crew-tendable probes that travel the InterPlanetary Superhighways. Increased focus on small-body studies instead of gas giant studies. More Solar missions. Crew-tendable Earth Observation satellites. The list goes on and on.

    I would actually argue that the Mars -advocacy community risks isolating themselves further if they become to strident in their assertions that “Mars is THE GOAL”. Mars has never been terribly popular with the General Public, and Gallup polls consistently indicate a far-stronger interest in the Moon, and returning there, than in going to Mars. The risk is that Mars-o-philes will come across as “not team players”. People are interested in asteroids. Space activities in that regard will find an easy audience. The Moon is interesting, but the smart people don’t seem to be able to explain how going back is useful. Something I’m going to try to do a bit in my next couple of posts.

  4. David Stever says:

    Wow, Ken! “Venus Equilateral Station” – is that book even still in print? I haven’t thought of that one in 30-40 years. George O. Smith would be proud that we might in the next 50-100 years actually have a station there.

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