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  Exploration: Asteroids, Moon and Mars
  Gene Cernan on the future of the space program (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   Gene Cernan on the future of the space program
SpaceAholic
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posted 08-21-2012 07:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gene Cernan appeared on Neil Cavuto's show on Fox News today from the National Naval Aviation Museum here at NAS Pensacola.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-21-2012 07:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I fully believe Gene when he says he says "I believe myself in what I am saying." His core message, that of supporting a strong space exploration program, is one I can get fully behind.

But to borrow something from the interview, I believe that if I could sit down with Cernan and talk with him like he and Neil Cavuto were talking, it would be a much more productive discussion than the one aired on TV.

Cernan recently commented that he was not fully aware of the current state of NASA's and private industries' space activities because he didn't see it in the news. I would suggest that the host network for his interview today shares in that blame.

I disagree with Cernan on several of his points, but respect him for his passion to see us move out into the solar system. I believe there are better forums to affect that change than the one he participated in today.

capoetc
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posted 08-21-2012 09:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great interview.

Cernan is talking about the big picture: The direction of America and of the nation's space program. Within that context, the details of what this private enterprise or that private enterprise is doing is not very relevant.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-21-2012 09:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is it relevant to know what NASA is doing?

The "big picture" that Cavuto paints is that China, India and "even Iran" are looking at going to the moon, but he makes no mention that NASA is looking at going to Mars (and in the context of his question, NASA's goal of Mars is as credible, if not more so, than any of those other nation's current space activities).

Cavuto frames his questions around the argument that we don't have enough money, which is implied to be the Administration's point of view. But it is Congress that has funded NASA's human spaceflight programs below the President's budget request.

To be fair, neither of those points would be so important if the questions asked of Cernan weren't so pointed as to package the interview as "last man to walk on the moon" versus the President of the United States, but that's the impression Cavuto evokes with his selective examples.

capoetc
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posted 08-22-2012 05:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My point is: If one's position is that the direction that the nation and the space program are being taken is wrong, then the details regarding how, exactly, that wrong direction will be implemented are not all that relevant.

Incidentally, Cernan refuted the "not enough money" claim that Cavuto made, stating that it was how the money available was being spent and not the lack of funds that is the problem.

bruce
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posted 08-22-2012 07:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for bruce   Click Here to Email bruce     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Cavuto squandered a great and rare opportunity to have a real discussion with Gene Cernan by framing the talking points around the typical Fox agenda of "this is all Obama's fault". This scripted approach serves no one but Fox News and further disinforms our citizens, while encouraging viewers to "cast blame" instead of "seeking solutions and opportunities" as to how we can and should further our efforts in space.

SpaceAholic
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posted 08-22-2012 07:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Questions might have been but Cernan's empassioned responses were certainly not scripted

Fra Mauro
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posted 08-22-2012 08:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I admire Cernan's passion about manned space flight. It is rare among fellow retired astronaurs, politicians, or fellow citizens. He is clearly frustrated with the state of things at NASA. I do agree that the questions could have been better. We will see if he can capture the attention of the man he is supporting for President.

bruce
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posted 08-22-2012 08:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for bruce   Click Here to Email bruce     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Cernan has always been a wonderful torch bearer for a healthy space program. His passion about the subject is contagious, especially if you get the opportunity to speak with him about it in person. Gene's a great ambassador!

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-22-2012 08:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In this interview, Cernan's passion is presented without a cause.

Not once does Cavuto (or Cernan) inform the audience what NASA is doing today or what goals it has for the future. Cernan bemoans that there hasn't been a goal set like Kennedy did for the moon, but no mention is made of sending American astronauts to an asteroid and Mars (which, whether you agree or disagree with them, are the defined goals for NASA, as announced by the President in 2010 and written into law by Congress).

Cavuto raises "hitchhiking" but ignores the development of commercial American spacecraft. Cernan criticizes the cuts to JPL's Mars program budget, but doesn't put those cuts into any type of context, which as a journalist Cavuto should have then done.

An interview should be informative, and it is the journalist's responsibility to make sure what isn't said by the interviewee is brought out in the introduction, questions and wrap to the piece. Cavuto seems more concerned with getting Cernan to speak poorly of the President than he is about addressing the topic of the interview, the future of U.S. spaceflight.

jimsz
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posted 08-22-2012 10:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
An interview should be informative, and it is the journalist's responsibility
Cavuto is not a journalist. He is an anchor/talkinghead/talk show host. Fox, like CNN, have a specific leaning in their bias reporting (which is fine) but don't mistake any of the those that appear on the screen as being journalists. There are few journalists on TV.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-22-2012 10:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Cuvato has a degree in journalism and was awarded the highest honor for graduating journalism students from St. Bonaventure University. He's been hailed as the "the best interviewer in broadcast business news."

He knows how to conduct a proper interview but did not in this instance.

If his job allows him to have and express a bias that is fine (I think anyone tuning in to watch a Fox News broadcast is aware there is going to be a bias to the reporting) but that doesn't excuse his use of selective and limited facts.

issman1
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posted 08-22-2012 01:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Why doesn't Cernan simply demand Romney agrees to nominate him as NASA's next administrator at the Republican Party convention? After all, he only ever bemoans the plight of NASA on the virulently anti-Obama Fox News.

Fra Mauro
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posted 08-22-2012 01:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well we could debate how many journalists hide their bias and ask good questions but that's not for here. Cavuto should have asked better questions.

From what I can recall, Cernan was against the retirement of the shuttle until a replacement was ready. He also was for the Constellation program and supports the SLS.

He believes the current path is "a road to nowhere." Cernan is not a fan of an asteroid mission and Mars exploration that is so far away. He probably suspects that this will never happen. I apologize to anyone if I have misinterpreted his remarks.

Perhaps he can get his friend to articulate a space policy. After reading editorials about how much a waste of money NASA is, it's refreshing to hear someone like him or Neil deGrasse Tyson who support it.

328KF
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posted 08-22-2012 01:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There are only two main rocky targets for astronauts to go explore, the moon and Mars. This country has been trying to decide which one should take priority and how best to get there for decades now.

History has a funny way of repeating itself. Bush 41 proposes we continue our lunar exploration... it is underfunded for years and eventually canceled by Clinton. Following the Columbia accident, Bush 43 proposes the Constellation program to return us to the moon and eventually on to Mars... with similar results and eventually canceled by Obama.

What we now have are not clear near term goals. They are more pie in the sky from Washington which has resulted in the ever present "design by committee." Our plans for exploration consist of a computer generated graphic of a rocket without a viable destination, and only two scheduled test flights on the books.

I think both Cavuto and Cernan acknowledged the lack of a position on the part of Romney with the exchange about, "what if you could whisper in his ear?" While Cernan is obviously no fan of Obama's, neither was overtly cheerleading for the Republican.

Cernan is absolutely justified in his position that we lack direction, and the current asteroid distraction is just another political trick to have a pseudo goal out beyond the current election term. Commercial crew is not an exploration program, it was an alternative procurement strategy which has now taken on a new urgency... and it is the result of mismanagement of our space assets at the highest levels.

Some seem to think we're doing everything exactly right. I would love to look back 50 years from now, having put explorers on Mars, and see that there was no way we could have done it without taking the path we are currently on, but I am extremely doubtful. Rather, I expect we will see several more false starts, unjustified paths, and misguided goals driven by political agendas.

I stated recently that I'm not looking for another Kennedy like speech, but I still have to ask, if we as a nation decided we should put explorers on the moon or even on an asteroid, and do it within one presidential term, would we have any takers in Washington?

Fra Mauro
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posted 08-22-2012 01:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If there was a clear goal within a defined budget, and it could be clearly and enthusiastically stated, starting with the President and NASA administrator, I still believe enough Americans would care.

SpaceAholic
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posted 08-22-2012 04:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From Neil Cavuto just a short while ago. In many respects his perspective and "bias" is no different then those of cS members:
Ok, I think I can die now. I have spent a day with a guy who's been my hero all my life. Full disclosure. I am fully biased. I think Gene Cernan is among the best of the best. The last man to walk on the moon giving me unprecedented access to his world. A world rich in heroes, and achievements, fighter planes, and rockets. A bygone era from a generation that never knew the word "can't."

I was still a boy when I watched Cernan having the time of his life on the moon... in that last visit by human beings to the moon. Even as a kid, I could see the kid in Gene... A guy who didn't see his time up there as a "mission," but a "passion." And one... that even drove he and colleague Harrison Schmitt... to song. I said Gene was a hero. I never said he was a singer.

I joked yesterday with Gene, as I have so often shared with many of you on this show... how much I wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid. I did, I really did. I mean, I was a nut about it. When other kids my age were collecting baseball cards, I was collecting astronaut autographs. And reading everything I could get on every mission I could follow. I had Gemini models, and Apollo models, lunar modules. Command modules. I'd pretend in my room, I was in a rocket in outer space. Frankly, it worried my mom and dad.

But lo and behold it got them to do something that would forever change my life. Take me to Cape Canaveral itself. That's when it hit me like a rocket booster to the kisser. After looking at all those capsules, I realized something. I was too fat to fit in them. So I gave up on being an astronaut, and moved down the career alphabet to "anchor." Yes, I know, the world is a better place as a result... But it took me years to get over that cold caloric reality after that trip. But it never dampened one bit my enthusiasm for space. Or my admiration for those who risked all and some who gave all, to be in space. A president who boldly staked out a new frontier. And able and willing heroes who saw the value of America leading that frontier.

Some say guys like Gene are throwaways to another era. Sadly, they're right. But dismissing the passion of these guys, who embodied the right stuff, is wrong. They made this country great. And they're worried about this country now. Take it from the last guy to walk on the moon. His DNA still exists in all of us... right now. To discover. To lead. To wonder. To be... wondrous.

I never became an astronaut... but I think I'm still wired to see the wonderful. That's why Gene's a hero. I had to move on. Gene... refuses to. We could do worse than heed the warnings of a hero. Take a look around... We already are. Thank you, Gene. Thank you very much.

Orthon
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posted 08-22-2012 09:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Orthon   Click Here to Email Orthon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
328KF is correct. These "goals" are a dangling carrot to pacify those who condemn the current administration. Gene Cernan is right on concerning the present administration.

An asteroid is an excellent target for an unmanned probe - but a manned mission as a national goal?

When Columbus discovered America, didn't people return to colonize? They didn't say "well, we've been there" and set their sights on a 5 mile wide island.

The fact is - the U.S. manned program will be stuck in Earth orbit for a long time.

Apollo Redux
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posted 08-30-2012 12:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Apollo Redux   Click Here to Email Apollo Redux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nice post. Sad to say that history may be repeating. In reference to your 'colonization' comment -

Erik the Red had founded a settlement around the year 985. In 1001 his son Leif is thought to have explored the northeast coast of what is now Canada.

Between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and the Americas.' The first European settlers that attempted permanent settlements, began arriving around 1600–1650.

The principal reasons for the delay, in my estimation, were; no urgent imperative to do so, and economic hurdles.

Somebody once said that America took a piece of the late 21st century, and dropped it in the mid-20th century. Frustrating for those of us who yearn for more.

Fra Mauro
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posted 09-02-2012 11:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree, we aren't going anywhere besides the ISS for decades. When the station is deorbited... who knows?

Honestly, the asteroid mission is better done by unmanned explorers. The production rate for the SLS and the flight schedule seems economically unfeasible as far as the production lines go. We space enthusiasts were sold a poor bill of goods.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 12:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Who is better equipped to say what mission is worthwhile or not: the team working to accomplish such a mission, who have devoted their careers to making it happen, or space enthusiasts who only know what they read and see in the mass media?

On Thursday, I spent the full morning at Johnson Space Center with the team that had just completed a 10-day simulated manned mission to an asteroid. I was there to cover the story for SPACE.com (see here for details and photos).

Asked why an crewed asteroid mission made sense they all pretty much agreed on two points:

  1. We're not ready to go to Mars.
  2. An asteroid mission is much more complicated than anyone previously thought.
The latter, they said, is why sending a crew to a near-Earth asteroid is worthwhile. It presents an achievable but significant challenge to get NASA ready to send crews to Mars.

The mission advances in-situ technology, the development of new tools applicable to both environments, and teaches crew members and Mission Control how to work together when near-real time communication is not possible (it turns out texting is far superior to voice).

And even though there are technological and engineering challenges (to say nothing of the challenge finding candidate asteroids), they are confident they can do it by the 2020s.

capoetc
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posted 09-02-2012 04:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Who is better equipped to say what mission is worthwhile or not...

The US taxpayer is. Ultimately, all that matters is whether the defined goal is supportable in the long term.

As a taxpayer, I think I am quite qualified to weigh in on the subject.

Now, a question (and this is an honest question): What is the stated purpose of a manned mission to an asteroid? Other than "as a prelude to a manned Mars flight" (the reason stated by the President), what do we hope to achieve?

I could understand the deep space navigation aspect, although it would seem that we already know how to get spacecraft to Mars. The communication delay is a challenge that can be explored on an asteroid mission, but that could also be explored on earth or on the moon by simply electronically delaying the communication link to simulate Earth-Mars distance.

I suppose there is value in doing something that is hard (which going to an asteroid certainly would be) ... but by the time you get there, it would seem that you will then be in a position of having to design a new spacecraft to take the next step on to Mars.

I guess what I am trying to say is, I am open to the idea of getting behind a manned mission to an asteroid if I can understand the purpose for the task and how going to an asteroid will uniquely prepare us for the next step on to Mars in a way that could not be done by returning to the Moon (which would arguably also involve opening up the moon for potential commercial use).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 05:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If we had listened to the American taxpayer in the 1960s, we would have never gotten to the moon. Public polling in the years leading up to and through the Apollo missions showed that a majority of taxpayers thought the Apollo program was not worth the money. Only in 1969 did the majority favor the landings, and then it was by a very slim margin (less than 5%).

Imagine if Nixon had listened to the scientists and NASA leaders who were urging a continuation of Apollo, rather than his impression of what taxpayers thought.

quote:
Originally posted by capoetc:
I guess what I am trying to say is, I am open to the idea of getting behind a manned mission to an asteroid if I can understand the purpose for the task...
In addition to the lessons already outlined, there is another important reason to go to an asteroid: planetary protection. Thursday's event including planetary scientists who spoke about how little we really know about the asteroids.

The robotic missions we've sent and are sending there have done great work, but they are incapable of returning the samples we need to really understand the nature of the asteroids. (Think the difference between the samples returned by the Soviet robotic missions versus the moon rocks brought back by astronauts.)

Not if, but when an asteroid large enough to do serious damage to the Earth emerges out of the darkness of space, we need to be ready with at least a better understanding of the threat. We have the opportunity and soon the capability to collect that data.

SpaceAholic
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posted 09-02-2012 06:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
The robotic missions we've sent and are sending there have done great work, but they are incapable of returning the samples we need to really understand the nature of the asteroids.
That's because they were not designed to do so... if established as an objective, a robotic return mission could be implemented. OSIRIS-REx represents an initial effort in that direction.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 06:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to NASA's planetary scientists, the greatest challenge about going to an asteroid is what we don't know. It's not just a design issue. It is an engineering issue and the unique ability by astronauts to be able to select samples and respond quickly to changing conditions.

You cannot teleoperate a probe at an asteroid due to the communication delays and unlike on Mars, where we can target samples and then let the rovers navigate to them autonomously, that is much more difficult at an asteroid due to the lack of gravity and the lack of knowledge about the conditions on site.

capoetc
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posted 09-02-2012 06:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
If we had listened to the American taxpayer in the 1960s, we would have never gotten to the moon.
There was a glaring national security need to counter the Soviet Union's efforts in space then — not so today. In today's budgetary environment, it will be very difficult to justify the budgets necessary for a robust manned program absent the support of the electorate. Thus, it would be wise for the Administration to make it clear what the purpose will be for a manned mission to an asteroid. Thus far, I do not think there has really been a realistic attempt to do so, unless I have missed it.
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
In addition to the lessons already outlined, there is another important reason to go to an asteroid: planetary protection.
Rusty Schweikart and the B-612 Foundation have been advocating for planetary defense for some time now. Their studies would seem to indicate that the most effective approach would be three-fold:
  1. Budget now to identify all of the asteroids that could potentially intersect Earth's orbital path in the future.

  2. Establish a world-wide political entity (perhaps via the UN) that would determine the criteria/threshold beyond which an asteroid would be considered a threat to earth and establish a process through which decisions would be coordinated as to how to counter the threat.

  3. When an asteroid is detected that could intersect the Earth's orbit and is large enough to cause significant damage, there should be more than a decade (and likely 20 years or so) in which to develop an appropriate response to divert the asteroid away from earth's orbital path. The mission would likely be unmanned and would perhaps involve a gravity tractor to alter the path of the asteroid only slightly well in advance such that it would miss earth entirely.
It would seem that planetary defense would be a tertiary purpose for a manned asteroid mission, but maybe I am missing something here.

SpaceAholic
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posted 09-02-2012 06:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
You cannot teleoperate a probe at an asteroid due to the communication delays and unlike on Mars, where we can target samples and then let the rovers navigate to them autonomously, that is much more difficult at an asteroid due to the lack of gravity and the lack of knowledge about the conditions on site.
And yet that is precisely how OSIRIS-REX will achieve its multi-sample mission (the spacecraft will initially characterize the target via mapping prior to autonomous sample retrieval. The PI who has a major hand in the spacecraft's design (Dante Lauretta) is visiting here in Sierra Vista on Friday, will query for his thoughts on the matter.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 06:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Learning about the geology of the moon was a tertiary justification for the Apollo program, but today, that knowledge has outlived winning the space race.

The reasons to go to an asteroid are multifaceted, which includes moving humans further out into the solar system, learning how to use multi-mission spacecraft and planetary protection.

Going to the moon, as was earlier suggested, does very little to prepare us for Mars, when compared to an asteroid mission.

There are two primary aspects of a Mars mission: the trip there and back, and the time on the surface. The moon nor the asteroids offer a Mars analog for working on the surface, but the moon is too close to practice for the transit to and from the Red Planet. The relative brevity of the trip and the lack of a significant communications delay both rank an asteroid mission over a return to the moon.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 06:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by SpaceAholic:
And yet that is precisely how OSIRIS-REX will achieve its multi-sample mission...
OSIRIS-REX is an excellent precursor mission, but it will take 7 years to return just 2.1 ounces to 4.4 pounds, which ultimately will be a targeted, but random sampling.

328KF
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posted 09-02-2012 07:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert's article was a good read, but left me shaking my head more than before.

Number one, we have yet to find a candidate asteroid that astronauts can reach in a reasonable timeframe. To accomplish this, we may need to launch another infrared telescope into an orbit trailing Venus? Then we have to build and launch (and wait on) a probe to detail the surface of the candidate asteroid before we send astronauts? All of this prep work eating through budget on a multi-year (most probably multi-Presidential term) program that will cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars?

One has to ask the question...how does this help us get to Mars? (Hint: it doesn't)

Other than Orion, the vehicles and equipment used for such a mission will by neccessity be completely different than those designed for Martian descent, landing, and exploration. The enormous cost of this venture will only serve to detract from the ultimate goal.

I think most space-minded people long for any deep space exploration, but while I see this as an exciting mission to a wild destination, it seems like more of a "nice to do" thing once we have accomplished our primary goals. I certainly admire the hard-working folks who are doing the research and engineering into the early planning for such a flight, and I hope their efforts aren't all for nothing.

But thinking realistically from a political standpoint, what politician is going to stick his or her neck out for something like this? (Another hint: nobody). Just look at what happened to Newt Gingrich when he openly campaigned for a strong manned space program. Romney is keeping quiet on his feelings about it for fear of alienating significant blocks of voters, but he led the ridicule of Gingrich during the debates.

The two missions, Mars vs. asteroid, don't have nearly as much in common as a lunar landing/ base would. There you can study long-term habitation issues (dust being a significant threat), surface vehicles, suits, techniques and equipment, while still being relatively close to Earth in the event that something goes wrong or logistics become a problem.

Are we ready to go to Mars now? No. ISS is an "open loop" ecosystem which relies heavily on supplies from the surface, and occasional technical malfunctions like the current power problems could prove catastrophic on an outward-bound Mars expedition. But we are learning invaluable lessons lessons there for the future.

In addition to the technical side, we need near-term goals that show the paying public real progress and directly contribute to the ultimate prize. If the current policy had any real intent to move beyond LEO, we would be moving forward now, rather than sideways, if we are in fact moving anywhere at all.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 08:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
To accomplish this, we may need to launch another infrared telescope into an orbit trailing Venus? Then we have to build and launch (and wait on) a probe to detail the surface of the candidate asteroid before we send astronauts?
Why is that unthinkable? Didn't we launch Lunar Orbiter, Ranger and Surveyor missions before launching Apollo? And what was the Constellation program's first funded spacecraft? Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Robotic precursor missions are going to come with any destination.

quote:
(Hint: it doesn't)
Saying that it doesn't doesn't make it true. The men and women working at NASA today aren't mindless drones. They have proposed specific reasons to go to an asteroid. Why do you feel more qualified to contradict their opinion? (And to be clear, you're welcome to contradict, and I suspect, were you able to present a solid enough argument, NASA would listen.)

But most of the objections to an asteroid mission boil down to "because." No specific details, no direct rebuttals and more often are based on dismissing or ignoring the reasons put forth by NASA.

quote:
Other than Orion, the vehicles and equipment used for such a mission will by neccessity be completely different than those designed for Martian descent, landing, and exploration.
Descent and landing, yes. The same can be said for any mission to the moon.

But exploration? No. The SEV is purposely being designed to operate on the moon, around an asteroid and on the surface of Mars by employing a modular cabin that can fit onto several different type of chassis.

The specific idea is to build once to go anywhere.

quote:
...what politician is going to stick his or her neck out for something like this? (Another hint: nobody).
President Obama? Or did we all collectively hallucinate his statements in support of an asteroid mission.

Politicians are much more likely to get behind a 90-day mission than they are an endless moonbase effort or a year-and-a-half (at the minimum) mission to Mars.

quote:
If the current policy had any real intent to move beyond LEO, we would be moving forward now, rather than sideways, if we are in fact moving anywhere at all.
The current plan is moving forward, as evident by the SEV being in its second revision design cycle and a proto-flight version under early construction now. NASA is soliciting proposals for how to use geosynchronous satellites to search for near Earth asteroids. A new pressure suit is moving forward at a pace that precluded their involvement in the recent mission simulation.

And that's to say nothing about Orion and the fact that its first launch is dictated more by the availability of a Delta IV Heavy than it is the capsule's readiness.

I think there are a lot of people who would like to believe that the program isn't moving ahead for various reasons. Either they are impatient and want everything to happen right now, or they disagree with the end goal, so they want it to stall. But the reality is that work is underway and the only insurmountable obstacle are all those outside the program who want to start again from scratch.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 09-02-2012 09:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wish there was a way I could get NASA to invite collectSPACE members to a day like I experienced on Thursday. I think there's a disconnect between what is happening inside NASA's manned space program and what the public — even space enthusiasts — perceive is happening.

I'm going to see if perhaps astronaut Michael Gernhardt or another member of the asteroid mission team might join us on this forum for a discussion, so members can get answers directly from the source...

328KF
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posted 09-02-2012 10:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, Robert...

Starting from scratch is what got us to where we are right now. Look, we're all just spitballing here. Most of us aren't engineers, or well-connected with NASA or any policticians holding their purse strings.

I'd love for NASA to listen to my opinion and I'd be happy to detail my reasoning. I've actually taken the time to go to Washington and express my opinions to lawmakers in person. It's a wonderful country we live in that allows a citizen to do that. But I realistically conclude that one person's voice has little chance of changing the course NASA is currently on.

A robotic mission to an asteroid is a worthy goal, and a large sample return would be even better. My point was that an infrared telescope and probe combination are going to cost ALOT of money, probably money NASA won't have. Whereas we already have multiple probes on or orbiting both Mars and the moon.

The idea of building once and going anywhere, under the current plans that we know of, might more accurately be described as build once and go once. That's what the asteroid mission is. We build a system, fly there "in the 2020's" and then go to Mars "in the 2030's." What happens in between? Where will the money come from? What other steps will be necessary to develop a Mars exploration strategy? How do we keep up public and political support?

Two things an extended lunar exploration creates is a destination and a need to go there. I'm not proposing a huge lunar colony, but rather a small base camp similar to early arctic research stations. We learn to live in the environment, rotate crews and transfer supplies, and retain the ability to leave it unattended if the need arises.

Most importantly, like ISS, once the investment is made and the destination is there, it opens all sorts of possibilities, even commercialization like we are seeing now to LEO. ISS won't be around forever, and I've stated before that it could suffer a mission-ending failure at any point (I think one study recently put that likelihood at near 30%). These operators would be scrambling to expand their capabilities to support an "International Lunar Station."

President Obama canceled the lunar program. As part of that Orion itself was dead. Then it was resurrected as a...what was it? Oh yeah, a lifeboat for ISS. Gradually it was rescued itself by Congress to do what it was originally intended to do. But there was hardly unrestrained support from the White House for exploration.

Obama has dangled the asteroid carrot out there, knowing full well he won't be responsible for it. The folks at NASA are good soldiers, and those smart people will throw their hearts and souls into whatever mission they are assigned. I imagine they are all wide-eyed at the possibilities and the challenges of an asteroid mission. But it's way above their pay grade to question the marching orders or the policies guiding them.

Neil deGrasse Tyson makes the fine point that historically, we only expend large sums of money to either (paraphrasing here):

  1. Worship a god or diety (Taj Mahal in India)
  2. Fight a war, or
  3. Make more money by return on the investment
We never have and for the foreseeable future never will explore space with humans just for scientific gain. Obviously we're not going to use #1 as a reason, and #3 has yet to be pursued. That leaves war, and indeed this was the very reason we went to the moon in the 60's.

Maybe a real or perceived competition with other developing countries will get us there, maybe not. But China is planning on going to the moon. I think all of the development work done so far between Constellation and the asteroid mission planning could be put to good use for a lunar expedition, perhaps with some of our ISS partners.

Build the architecture, set goals that are just a few years out rather than decades, encourage commercial entities to join in, and incrementally expand outward. And if we want to go land on a rock before going to Mars, pick one that's on the road going there. Take the exit ramp to Phobos.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3023
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 09-02-2012 10:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
Neil deGrasse Tyson makes the fine point that historically, we only expend large sums of money to either (paraphrasing here):
  1. Worship a god or diety (Taj Mahal in India)
  2. Fight a war, or
  3. Make more money by return on the investment

  1. Mitigate an existential threat to our survival

328KF
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posted 09-02-2012 10:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Agreed... but we have been told that any threatening asteroid would be detected in time to allow years, if not decades, of preparation. And the ones that don't tend to sneak up on us without warning, and would not lend themselves to mitigation anyhow.

We have to ask ourselves if the threat is imminent enough to sidetrack our exploration program and expend large sums of money and resources to go do this right now.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 09-02-2012 10:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
My point was that an infrared telescope and probe combination are going to cost ALOT of money...
We actually know the rough cost as we've built and launched comparable probes in the recent past:
  • Infared telescope: Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE): $320 million
  • Asteroid survey mission: Dawn: $466 million
quote:
We build a system, fly there "in the 2020's" and then go to Mars "in the 2030's." What happens in between?
What happened between Sojourner and Spirit landing on Mars? How about between Opportunity and Curiosity? We learned from the prior mission, made improvements and went on to the next step in space exploration. Not all worthwhile missions need to be a rapid series of flights, like Apollo or shuttle.
quote:
We learn to live in the environment, rotate crews and transfer supplies, and retain the ability to leave it unattended if the need arises.
Which does little more than move the ISS to the surface of the moon. What does learning to live in a 1/6 gravity environment do for preparing us for Mars, where the gravity is significantly stronger? If the end goal is Mars, the moon is more off the beaten path than a near-Earth asteroid...
quote:
President Obama canceled the lunar program.
Actually, he didn't. He canceled the Ares family of launch vehicles and proposed giving NASA the time to determine exactly what launch vehicle and spacecraft it needed. Congress, which was much more interested in protecting the money that was flowing into key states than what was best for the future of space exploration, forced the return of Orion and a vehicle to launch it.

People have criticized the military for the influence it had over the design of the space shuttle; I believe in the future, we'll come to say the same about Congress and the Space Launch System.

Obama did propose an asteroid and manned mission to Mars over returning to the moon because the budget for the outlying years would not support the infrastructure needed to properly explore the moon (namely, we couldn't afford the lander).

quote:
That leaves war...
I suppose the eventual threat presented by an approaching asteroid could be viewed as a war on Earth waged by the universe (or God, as some will no doubt proclaim when it happens).
quote:
And if we want to go land on a rock before going to Mars, pick one that's on the road going there. Take the exit ramp to Phobos.
I agree that Phobos makes an attractive target, but it is far too long a trip for a first sortie.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-02-2012 10:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
We have to ask ourselves if the threat is imminent enough to sidetrack our exploration program and expend large sums of money and resources to go do this right now.
I think we can all agree that Mars it the ultimate target, right? Then assume for a moment that the moon and an asteroid are on equal footing for preparing us to go to Mars (regardless if you believe it is or isn't).

The added benefit of increasing our knowledge about a real threat to the future of life on Earth tips the scales in favor of an asteroid...

Jay Chladek
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posted 09-03-2012 04:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The argument that going back to the moon does little to prepare us for Mars in my opinion is a shortsighted one because people aren't considering how to use the moon's strengths to prepare us for Mars.

Yes, the environment of the moon is very different from Mars, but it has one singular advantage... it is A LOT closer. One can stick engineering samples and people on the moon for long term environmental studies of the equipment, the people, radiation shielding and plenty of other things. You would get similar radiation exposure levels on the moon to deeper space due to the moon being outside the Van Allen belts.

But the main advantage is if something does go wrong and the crew has to return, assuming their landing craft and/or Earth return craft is intact, they are three days away from home. On an asteroid or Mars shot, not so much.

An asteroid is indeed a tempting target, but unless the plan is to "land" on Deimos or Phobos, I don't see much benefit to a Mars mission aside from the long coast phases where the crew spends extended periods in zero g. The equipment needed when one gets to an asteroid is going to be very different from what is used on Mars, just like lunar exploration equipment will be different. Other than those concerns, a mission to an asteroid becomes more of a rendezvous problem with weak gravitational forces having an effect. Mars wouldn't have that.

So as I see it, extended duration missions to the moon have about as much of the same direct benefits for a mission to Mars that a mission to an asteroid has. The benefits are just a little different from one another.

The asteroid target requires designing equipment (and protecting crewmembers) to handle the long trip out and back. The moon by comparison will not require quite the same vehicle design for extended operations as the surface lander becomes the priority. But at the same time it does allow for testing in a space environment outside the protection of the Van Allen belts and can provide similar data.

But the beauty of the moon is while the testing is being done, additional samples can be collected and analyzed on site. So the search for water on the moon can take place. Experiments can be done to see if there really is an abundance of Helium 3, or if elements in lunar soil can produce oxygen. Medical studies into the effects of extended reduced gravity (as opposed to zero gee) can be conducted as Mars has a weak gravity environment similar to the moon. On an asteroid mission, the science conducted on the way and back would be limited to medical, engineering and astronomy observations for the most part (no cool rocks to analyze, except maybe on the trip back).

The major benefits to Earth of an asteroid mission as I see it are potentially in material studies of the asteroid and testing methods for asteroid deflection in case of a potential Earth crossing asteroid on a direct path for an impact. Those are valid goals. But the asteroid mission should in my opinion be sold on its own merits as opposed to it being a stepping "stone" to Mars.

What worries me about a jump out to an asteroid, followed by a jump all the way to Mars though is to me they are almost like a house of cards approach to things. One little slip up in the missions resulting in disaster could kill the chance that the US might ever try anything like that again due to the costs and risks. It would all potentially tumble to the ground like a house of cards.

While trips to the moon have their risks, a long duration presence there would lead to a potentially more robust spaceflight infrastructure with more direct benefits for Earth. Low Earth Orbit we've conquered for the most part. So extend out a bit and plant the flag in the next outposts on the moon, where the Earth is still close enough to both help and reap the benefits with a relatively quick turnaround.

If disaster did befall a flight to an asteroid or Mars, the infrastructure already up for the lunar presence would be robust enough to survive that setback. By comparison, if LEO stations are all we have and nothing is on the moon when a similar disaster potentially befalls an asteroid or Mars flight, it might make the culture so risk averse that the manned space program might completely implode for quite a long time and never recover.

capoetc
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posted 09-03-2012 07:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Robert, maybe you ought to inform the BBC (and most other news organizations) that President Obama didn't cancel the lunar program.

For what it is worth, I have a degree in aerospace engineering (Univ of Florida, 1987), and I still know quite a few folks in the industry. The engineers I have spoken with are good "soldiers", and they are working on the project they have been instructed by their boss to work on. They are giving it their best effort, and it is an honest effort.

But most of the guys I know do not believe the manned-asteroid-mission goal will survive into the next Administration, whether that administration begins in 2013 or 2017. And I certainly agree with that assessment.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 09-03-2012 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by capoetc:
Robert, maybe you ought to inform the BBC (and most other news organizations)...
Most news organizations (including the BBC) reported that Friday was Armstrong's funeral, that he was laid to rest, and that flags were lowered at the President's order to mark the funeral.

But Friday was not his funeral, it was a memorial service, he wasn't laid to rest and the President's order was for flags to fly at half-mast on the day of interment. The flags above the White House and Capitol flew at full mast on Friday.

The point is, what the mass media reports and what actually happened is often two different things, which is a sad state of affairs.


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