Campaign '08

Rudy in Huntsville

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to visit the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and meet with reporters there today. The forum would suggest that he might say something about space policy, unless he pulls a John Kerry (who went to KSC and talked about health care; fortunately, bunnysuits should not be required to see the exhibits at the center.) Giuliani, like most other 2008 presidential candidates of either major party, has said little about space exploration other than that he wants to “aggressively pursue space exploration”. Perhaps not that aggressively, though: he told a Heritage Foundation audience earlier this week that he supports an “outright cut” in non-defense spending and also wants to cut the civilian federal work force by a fifth, primarily through attrition.

34 comments to Rudy in Huntsville

  • MSFC Forever

    Word at Marshall management is that Rudi will be announcing his desire to put humans on Mars by 2030.

  • Another empty promise from a bankrupt republican.

  • Z-Axis

    I’ll take an empty promise from a Republican over delivered socialism and overtaxation from a democrat any day.

    I really think that the space program and national lab system should be included in ‘defense spending’, they are both long term investments in this nations technological and economic leadership without which our military would be a shark without teeth.

  • I’ll take an empty promise from a Republican over delivered socialism and overtaxation from a democrat any day.

    Well, good luck paying for your empty promises with your Republican enhanced national debt. Do I detect a severe disconnect from reality here?

  • anonymous

    “Word at Marshall management is that Rudi will be announcing his desire to put humans on Mars by 2030.”

    The space cadet in me would be heartened by such a promise from Guiliani or any of the other leading Presidential candidates.

    But the realist in me would view any such pronouncement with a high degree of skepticism. As we’ve seen with the Bush Administration and the VSE, there is a world of difference between a campaign promise and the funding of a major civil space initiative over multiple election cycles.

    Moreover, I worry that even if such an Apollo-like initiative were properly budgeted over many Presidencies and Congresses, that it would still be doomed to become an outdated and irrelevant effort in the 21st century. There is a thoughtful opinion piece over on NASA Watch:

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewnews.html?id=1210

    It makes the point that, as we are finding out with the “Apollo on Steroids” implementation of the VSE, that the Apollo paradigm is not a sustainable model for civil human space flight exploration outside the Cold War that spawned it. In the absence of a Cold War-type foreign challenge, the massive funding ramps and intensive all-government efforts necessary to mount such an effort cannot be sustained. A new model is needed and the author struggles to identify one.

    As many folks on this forum would agree, the author comes to the conclusion that NASA’s current human lunar return effort is doomed to cancellation after the next election cycle (or so, possible Guiliani pronouncements notwithstanding). And in the absence of a lunar goal, the author indirectly asks an important question about the future purpose of NASA human space flight. In an age where the information revolution is driving robotic capabilities for planetary exploration so much faster and farther than human systems can go — and where commercial space efforts may soon populate Earth orbit with private astronauts, private human space transportation systems, and private space stations — what is left for NASA’s human space flight programs to do? Why spend billions of taxpayer dollars annually on a civil human space flight program that does not actually explore other worlds and that duplicates private sector capabilities in Earth orbit? It’s not clear that even our pork-addicted Congress could continue supporting NASA’s human space flight workforce and infrastructure in the face of such a future.

    That future is not here yet, but it appears increasingly likely in the next decade or two. Unless the next President (and the Presidents to follow, which would probably require a major foreign challenge like China) continue to support NASA’s Apollo-model-or-bust approach to human space flight — or unless NASA is able to develop a new model — we may be looking at the final obsolescence of NASA’s human space flight program in the next couple of decades.

    More provoking commentary and reactions at:

    http://www.nasawatch.com/archives/2007/05/thinking_about.html

    FWIW…

  • anonymous

    “Word at Marshall management is that Rudi will be announcing his desire to put humans on Mars by 2030.”

    I also meant to add that the political realist in me doubts that any Presidential candidate would make such a pronouncement in Alabama. Logically, such an announcement would be made in a NASA state with a lot more electoral college votes, i.e., Florida, Texas, or California.

    FWIW…

  • Tom

    Word at Marshall management is that Rudi will be announcing his desire to put humans on Mars by 2030.

    No way. All you could expect from any candidate are motherhood statements stressing the importance of space to the nation’s future.

  • It’s all so sad around here. Instead of looking for ways to make this ballon fly, everyone wants to shoot it down or simply prove it can’t fly. No wonder Griffin has to struggle for every cent and Mars is as far away as it was in 1969.

  • Anonymous: In an age where the information revolution is driving robotic capabilities for planetary exploration so much faster and farther than human systems can go

    There you go again! [grin!] Something being widely believed and universally stated does not automatically make it correct, especially where science and engineering are concerned.

    Again, you’re confusing “science” with “reconnaissance.” Sure, the “information revolution” and “consequent robotic capabilities” can map the worlds of the outer Solar System, an area humans are not going anytime soon, in ever greater detail. But, I feel utterly confident in predicting that no robot is going to find a fossil on any world except by purest chance in any of our lifetimes. Land a robot in Arizona and it would have little or no chance of finding a fossil, even if it were a macrofossil and you knew approximately where to look. Then, you have to find a few hundred more fossils and start mapping evolution.

    Again, it is barely conceivable that you could automate detection of extant life on, say, Mars or Europa, by looking for out of equilibrium systems (e.g., the methane discovery). There is little or no chance of automating the discovery of past microbial life.

    Much the same applies to detailed field geology, or anything else that requires detailed field work, e.g., finding samples of the early lunar crust (barely achieved by Apollo) or a sample of splashed up terrestrial crust.

    If you want to do real experimental science, you need scientists. If you want to answer the above questions, then you have to pay what it takes to send scientists on site. If you want to look at pretty pictures in multiple wavelengths, by all means send robots. (But even there, many of the most emotionally dramatic photos from space have been taken by astronauts. The robotic John Muir is still a very long way in the future.)

    – Donald

  • It’s all so sad around here. Instead of looking for ways to make this ballon fly, everyone wants to shoot it down or simply prove it can’t fly. No wonder Griffin has to struggle for every cent and Mars is as far away as it was in 1969

    I’m so sorry to break it to you, but Mars isn’t going anywhere. It’s right there. It’s neither getting closer, nor farther away. Plus we have two rovers on the surface, and several satellites in orbit, and several mission in the queue.

    Bush, O’Keefe and Griffin lied about how they were going to pay for it, and then shut the entire scientific and engineering community out of the development process, instead choosing to conspire with ATK under the veil of secrecy. The scientific and engineering community, not to mention the well informed and highly educated space advocacy community, is understandably outraged. What you are witnessing now is not minor nit picking and ankle biting, this is a revolt, that isn’t going away anytime soon.

  • anonymous

    “It’s all so sad around here. Instead of looking for ways to make this ballon fly, everyone wants to shoot it down or simply prove it can’t fly.”

    I see the opposite. I see realists trying to come to grips with reality and find a new way forward despite a past of misspent efforts and a number of future obstacles to overcome.

    Not to make this about Griffin specifically, but if we space cadets want a vibrant future for civil human space flight that actually puts footprints on Mars, we can’t pin our hopes on stable, ever increasing, Apollo-like NASA budgets for the next 50 years as Griffin did in his recent Aviation Week blog.

    Our strategy cannot be based on unrealistic expectations that bear no resemblance to historical precendent and that are unsustainable within the political system of our democratic society.

    “No wonder Griffin has to struggle for every cent and Mars is as far away as it was in 1969.”

    Your blame finger is pointed in the wrong direction. It’s ridiculous to blame participants in this blog for the past 35 years of NASA funding, various STS and ISS decisions, the Bush Administration’s underfunding of the VSE, Griffin’s ESAS and Ares decisions, the recent Democratic takeover of the Congress, and/or the continued inability of Congress to focus on issues of real importance at NASA.

  • anonymous

    “There you go again! [grin!]‘

    I don’t want to make this personal, but there you go again, Mr. Robertson, restricting your arguments to orbiters and telescopes, ignoring the discoveries of recent rover teams, ignoring plans for future sample return missions that could put hundreds of extraterrestrial materials into the hands of thousands of Earth-based scientists and labs, ignoring the orders of magnitude difference in costs between human and robotic space systems and the budgetary and political realities associated with them, and ignoring the information revolution that’s developing computers and communications at a rate that far exceeds the development of the systems necessary to support human space exploration.

    I appreciate your views as a someone who has practiced field archeology. I definitely think it adds something to the debate. But I have to say that the view is a narrow one, and it is at odds not with accepted wisdom, but with a number of hard realities that the human space flight community is going to have to come to grips with or continue to lose pace to advances in robotic exploration.

    The reality is that we have robots today, and more planned in the near future, actually exploring multiple other worlds. Under the current strategy, the best that human space exploration can hope for is a few astronauts on the surface of one world a decade-and-a-half from now — and that assumes a string of minor miracles in the political and budgeting processes between now and then.

    Constantly reiterating that a human geologist with a pickax is preferable to a robot does not change the constraints that our civil space exploration program faces. We need a new human space exploration strategy — natch, a new space exploration strategy overall — that makes vibrant progress within those constraints and is resilient to future changes in those constraints.

    If that strategy, as the NASA Watch op-ed suggests, is conducting in-depth and real-time science operations from Earth using virtual representations of a handful other worlds constructed from massive data streamed back from dozens of probes, then so be it. It may not be ideal, and your pickax may never taste Martian soil, but I would vastly prefer that space exploration future to the bleak one we’re currently facing.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • anonymous

    “Bush, O’Keefe and Griffin lied about how they were going to pay for it”

    The Bush White House has not lived up to its promises regarding VSE funding, and Griffin has had to backtrack on various budgetary promises, including the infamous “not one thin dime from science.” But I have a hard time throwing O’Keefe in with that bunch. In his last year or two at NASA, O’Keefe got the White House and Congress to fund a significant budget increase at NASA to get the VSE underway, and that increase met VSE needs with no major dislocations to other NASA programs. That budgetary progress may have not been sustained after O’Keefe left, but that is probably more a testament to O’Keefe’s budgetary skills and political connections than anything else about O’Keefe.

  • I have a hard time throwing O’Keefe in with that bunch

    Because being a numbers man he knew he had to sell this thing to a skeptical lot fresh from a political speech. Do you remember O’Keefe burying himself in the numbers try to explain all this crap away about how it isn’t going to effect anything? He knew damn well it was going to require big budget increases if it even had a chance in hell to work. I’m sure he was thinking, man, I gotta get out of this line of work. He wanted to be Secretary of Defense too, if I recall.

    I’m sure in retrospect, he’s glad he get out of there.

    O’Keefe sold you this thing. You’re stuck with it.

  • anonymous

    “He knew damn well it was going to require big budget increases if it even had a chance in hell to work. I’m sure he was thinking, man, I gotta get out of this line of work.”

    I wouldn’t presume to know what someone else is thinking or planning in their own mind at any particular point in time.

    But I would argue that for O’Keefe to have those thoughts at that time doesn’t square with the sand chart contained in the VSE and budget estimates behind it that he and his staff presented to Congress. It was a straightforward budget plan, based on conservative CERs, with what were fundamentally Apollo technical elements phased out over a longer development cycle.

    It is unfortunate that the “steroids” Griffin added to that plan removed all of the margin (and then some) from that budget plan. But again, that’s not O’Keefe’s fault.

    FWIW…

  • Regardless, the buck was passed from Bush to O’Keefe to Griffin. The question we have to ask ourselves now is what is going to happen between now, and say, 2015. We can go to Pluto and Ceres, but we can’t get to the moon.

    I would prefer to be flying commercially to the ISS by 2011. VSE and ESAS need to come to a dead stop, just like a few other things, IMHO. By killing them off nobody would be preventing some future administration, from developing some heavy lift launch vehicle variation, for some ‘as yet unspecified’ future National Space Missions, while simultaneously utilizing existing space assets for current US manned space missions, and there are plenty of good reasons to continue doing so, but the whole VSE-ESAS thing is a dead end, engineering wise and timewise – politically and financially.

    It’s time to move on. Plan B.

  • GuessWho

    “If you want to do real experimental science, you need scientists. If you want to answer the above questions, then you have to pay what it takes to send scientists on site.”

    Donald, I applaud your view of science and the need for hands-on exploration of our planetary neighbors. I would never sign the check to send you there however. The fieldwork you advocate works well when you are free to ignore the basic infrastructure that sustains that type of effort. Feel free to travel to Arizona and walk around finding fossils. You don’t have to worry about staying warm. You don’t have to pack oxygen with you everywhere you go. When you have wandered for a few miles, you can hop into your SUV and drive to a new site for the cost of a few gallons of locally produced gasoline (the oil pumping systems, refineries, and fuel transportation and delivery systems are already in-place and paid for). You don’t have to design a new vehicle that can operate in the local environment, it already exists. You can pick up a load of groceries at the local store before you head out. The fields, farm machinery, farm labor, food processing and distribution systems are already in place and paid for. Your biggest worry is whether you have packed along enough water for the day so that you don’t have to leave early because you are thirsty. Besides, it just might rain. And when you collect all your valuable samples, you can return to your well appointed, heat/air conditioned lab and use all the high tech analysis tools to draw out the nuggets of new data that a set of human hands and eyes can’t begin to see or touch. All that engineering behind your little day-trip is back-ground noise because science is the main and only objective. Anonymous is correct, your view, while scientifically correct, is narrow and out of touch. I don’t advocate a standing army of engineers are needed before science research begins, but the basics need to be in place. You either ignore this fact, or dismiss it as just a matter of a few dollars (or in this case, a few 10′s to 100′s of billions of dollars).

  • kert

    is any promise from US politician that will take more than 4 years to begin implementation of, worth the paper its written on ?
    Especially, any prediction related to bleeding edge technological development just wont be accurate over a longer timespan than a few years in 21st century, so any promise that politicians make regarding to that are for all practical purposes worthless.

  • Tim Cockburn

    As a British observer of the VSE and associated Congressional pressure the notable feature is how the concept of ‘pork’ seems to define the solution. Whilst we do have this effect here in such matters as ‘making sure the nulear submarine base is in a Scottish constituency’ sadly we lack even a thin pork sausage of pressure on our lawmakers to engage in any form of space related activity. Space advocates should probably look to uniting in publicising and touting the objectives and realistic solutions rather than getting hung up in discussion of the failings of the pork-barrel derived delivery system.

  • [...] And what did he talk about? Abortion and the military, the Huntsville Times reports. Certainly not, as one commenter in the previous post suggested, unveiling plans for a human mission to Mars by 2030. Not that it’s surprising, of [...]

  • Paul Dietz

    is any promise from US politician that will take more than 4 years to begin implementation of, worth the paper its written on ?

    No, although you could omit the part from ‘that’ to the comma.

  • GuessWho,

    You are, of course, correct. However, Apollo astronauts did do just the kind of field work I am advocating (read the Harland book I’ve recommended before), even with first generation equipment and techniques. Anonymous implies robotics are improving by leaps and bounds while human planetary skills are not: That reflects where we put our resources, not necessarily what is possible or most beneficial or most cost effective.

    Arizona once lacked most of the resources you list. That changed. But, it changed because people started when it was hard, and by doing made it easier. If we never start on the moon, by definition it will never get easier. You an Anonymous are comparing second generation human lunar infrastructure (ESAS) with nth generation automated infrastructure, which tells you whats cheapest here and now, but not where to put your money to get the best long-term results.

    Anonymous: I don’t want to make this personal,

    I meant that as a joke. My appologies.

    We need a new human space exploration strategy — natch, a new space exploration strategy overall — that makes vibrant progress within those constraints and is resilient to future changes in those constraints.

    I agree. That’s what Mr. O’Keefe gave us. The later Shuttle overruns made it far more difficult, and Dr. Griffin has made unfortunate changes, but we all agree that those changes are not going to be reversed. These facts are some of the constraints that the human space program must operate under. Our job is to come up with a way forward from here, not dream about new strategies that at this point in time, and with the current political realities, have even less chance of political success than continuing on Dr. Griffin’s path. (Giving up on human exploration and giving robotic scientists everything they think they want is not an acceptable strategy, at least for me.)

    I recognize that early human missions will be severely limited, possibly more so than robotic missions (though I think the Apollo experience makes that very unlikely), but we will never get beyond that unless we do them. I also recognize the fiancial constraints. That is why, in a well-planned space program, we should not be wasting money trying to automate what either cannot effectively be automated, or what we are planning on sending astronauts to do anyway. Hire the small guys to send low-cost lunar spacecraft focused like lasers on learning things to make sending geologists easier, safer, or less expensive. The large lunar landers should stay cancelled.

    If that strategy, as the NASA Watch op-ed suggests, is conducting in-depth and real-time science operations from Earth using virtual representations of a handful other worlds constructed from massive data streamed back from dozens of probes, then so be it.

    So, we are going to remotely study a model from a distance, made from a bandwidth limited copy of the real environment? I cannot think of a better strategy to get wrong or misleading answers, a strategy that may well set back our understanding of the real world, or let us pretend we know far more than we really do (e.g., all the crater count “dates” we rely on). Have we learned nothing from the history of science? No real scientist should subscribe to spending what is still many billions of dollars for what in many ways is far worse than nothing at all.

    – Donald

  • anonymous

    “Anonymous implies robotics are improving by leaps and bounds while human planetary skills are not”

    That’s not an implication. It’s the truth. Compare the Lunar Surveyors and Viking landers to todays Mars rovers. There have been orders of magnitude advances in automation, mobility, range, data return, instrument sensitivity, instrument number, mission duration, etc., etc.. And the science teams behind them are actually getting to explore and do research!

    I struggle to point to any similar advances in capability — heck, any advances at all — in human space exploration. In fact, one could argue that human space exploration has gone backwards in demonstrated planetary research capability since the last Apollo mission. For all practical purposes, there has been no human space exploration in the past 30-odd years. How anyone can refer to improvements in “human planetary skills” without laughing?

    I don’t mean to beat up on human space flight, but I think we space cadets need to slap ourselves around a bit with these hard truths or forever tie ourselves to unrealistic strategies for advancing space exploration.

    “That reflects where we put our resources, not necessarily what is possible or most beneficial or most cost effective.”

    It’s not a reflection of resource allocation. Per GuessWho, it’s a reflection of how much more extraordinarily difficult it is to support a human in space environments than a robot. It’s also a reflection of the orders of magnitude larger industrial and technical base (the whole of the information, computer, and communications industries) that automated missions can leverage and build upon, versus the NASA-only market of the very small industries associated with human space flight. It’s also a reflection of the laws of nature and the nature of the technologies involved (e.g., Moore’s law and silicon chips versus the laws of gravity and the rocket equation).

    We could pour NASA’s entire science budget into overcoming these disparities and still never come close to making our human space exploration program competitive with the equivalent robotic program.

    So, instead of fighting an uphill battle against these realities, we should embrace them and use them to the advantage of our scientists and explorers. If it’s 10 to 100 times easier to stream virtual environments, command rover teams, and bring samples back from the planets than it is send scientists to them, then let’s do that in an aggressive way instead of pursuing what increasingly appears to be a fool’s dream of recreating Apollo 17 outside the Cold War environment that made it possible.

    And when the private sector does have the orbital equivalents of GuessWho’s SUVs, gas stations, motels, and labs in place, then the barriers will have been lowered enough so that we can really pursue the kind of Apollo 17 science Mr. Robertson is so keen on.

    But until then, as the NASAWatch essay by Mr. Saunders predicts, we’re needlessly banging our heads against an immovable wall if we keep trying to recreate Harrison Schmitt’s human lunar research campaign in a post-Cold War environment. Time to change strategy and pursue an aggressive and vibrant space exploration strategy that is consistent with the realities and fully leverages the opportunities of the 21st century.

    At least, that’s what I’d argue to the next White House.

    “You an Anonymous are comparing second generation human lunar infrastructure (ESAS) with nth generation automated infrastructure”

    I say, “So what?” It may be an unfair comparison, but it is the one we’re confronted with. The very fact that, after 30-odd years, we’ve only just started the second generation of human space exploration infrastructure (and we’re not actually to the exploration elements yet), while we can’t accurately count the generations of robotic space exploration that have occurred in the same span of time, speaks volumes about where we’ll get the biggest bang for our space exploration buck for the foreseeable future. Based on the past few decades of space exploration history and the constraints and opportunities that confront us over the next few decades, to earn a better return (scientific or otherwise) the smart money would bet on robotic exploration every time.

    “which tells you whats cheapest here and now, but not where to put your money to get the best long-term results.”

    I guess it depends on your definition of “long-term”, but I think the argument loses both technical and personal relevance if it goes much beyond our lifetimes, which, in my case, is probably another 20-40 years (depending on if I inherited a disposition to a certain disease from my parents).

    Over that timeframe, the very best I could hope for from human space exploration is a mission or two to Mars. More realistically, human space exploration is probably limited to the Moon during that timeframe. And although I appreciate the importance of geological dating, there are just much more compelling and habitable targets in our solar system that bear much more directly on the most important questions regarding the origins and existence of life. Thus, although the space cadet in me rebels, I’d probably trade a human lunar program (even a well-planned and funded one) for Mars rovers, drills, and sample returns; Europan submarines; Titan balloons; and the data streams and virtual environments necessary to allow us (and a lot of researchers) to experience those planets as “firsthand” as is possible.

    “Our job is to come up with a way forward from here, not dream about new strategies that at this point in time, and with the current political realities, have even less chance of political success than continuing on Dr. Griffin’s path.”

    To the extent that a blogging forum has any influence, I’d argue that our job is to offer better strategies for the decisionmakers that follow Griffin, the Bush White House, and the current Congress. The next two years are “wasted” — Griffin is going to continue down the oversized Orion and duplicative Ares 1 path come hell or high water. And the ESAS human lunar return is also effectively “wasted” — it’s been pushed so far over the horizon by Orion and Ares 1 that the next White House won’t give two hoots about redirecting its funding to more pressing needs. The key question, I think, is what space exploration strategy, if any, replaces the ESAS plan for a human lunar return.

    It could just be yet another plan for a human lunar return. Or it could be something better. I think the editorial by Mr. Saunders over on NASA Watch begins to point the way towards something better.

    “in a well-planned space program, we should not be wasting money trying to automate what either cannot effectively be automated, or what we are planning on sending astronauts to do anyway. Hire the small guys to send low-cost lunar spacecraft focused like lasers on learning things to make sending geologists easier, safer, or less expensive. The large lunar landers should stay cancelled.”

    I didn’t see anyone argue for the return of MSFC’s Battlestar Galactica lander, in this thread or anywhere else on this forum. And I strongly agree with Mr. Robertson’s small, frequent, lunar robotic mission approach.

    But if a human lunar return is no longer in the cards for the next 20 years, I think it would be good to conduct an automated lunar sample return mission or two to get at some of the fundamental questions regarding the Moon’s origins (which, in turn, are necessary to answer before the Moon can be used definitively as a geological time-stamp for the solar system).

    “Have we learned nothing from the history of science?”

    Yes. For example, in astronomy, arguably our oldest research discipline, we have gleaned what are probably the most profound insights in all of science while relying on a distance ladder that is constructed almost entirely from indirect measurements. The Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, the age of the universe, the gravitational fate of the universe, and everything in between has been discovered and deduced without even a single human researcher ever running the astronomical equivalent of a tape measure or odometer between the stars and galaxies.

    Don’t get me wrong. I greatly appreciate the importance of accurate geological dating and of hands-on research and experimentation. But to pretend that all of science, or even just planetary science, can’t make great discoveries, construct, disprove, and confirm theories, and otherwise solve nature’s mysteries — or even just improve on current solar system dating — without human hands and pickaxes on the Moon or other research targets is just not true.

    “No real scientist should subscribe to spending what is still many billions of dollars for what in many ways is far worse than nothing at all.”

    I think it’s very narrow and pure hyperbole to argue that if we can’t get human hands and pickaxes on the Moon and/or geological dating of the solar system to the nth digit, then it’s not worth bothering with ancient seabeds on Mars, organic atmospheres on Titan, oceans under Europa, Earth-like planets around other stars, and the — likely very affordable — rovers, drills, subs, balloons, interferometers, high bandwidth data streams, and virtual environments that would enable us to explore all of them, do a lot of really good science, and make paradigm-changing discoveries that would go down in history as the 21st century equivalent of America’s 20th century human lunar landing.

    My 2 cents… FWIW.

  • Anonymous: I struggle to point to any similar advances in capability — heck, any advances at all — in human space exploration.

    Of course not, since there has been no investment in human exploration since Apollo. However, where we have invested, we have truly dramatic results. Surely you are not going to argue that building the Space Station — the first large construction job in orbit – does not represent an advance over Mercury and Geminii. Or, even the extremely limited orbital tasks that were possible during Apollo. (Don’t get me wrong, I would be the first to argue the Space Station should not have been developed the way it was, but that does not reduce the achievement. Successfully pulling off a major construction job in orbit is, and will remain, an amazing accomplishment, probably more difficult and more significant for humanity’s future than were quick dashes to Earth’s moon and back.)

    It’s also a reflection of the orders of magnitude larger industrial and technical base (the whole of the information, computer, and communications industries) that automated missions can leverage and build upon, versus the NASA-only market of the very small industries associated with human space flight.

    Well, maybe, but for all the zillions of dollars invested in these industries over many, many decades, plus Moore’s law, the products of these industries still could not find a fossil on Mars. They couldn’t even, by themselves, assemble a complex machine like an aircraft or a skyscraper. We still use people to build things and to locate hard-to-find things, and we will for the foreseeable future. If we spent a tiny fraction of what we’ve spent on what one computer engineer I knew called the American propensity to “high-tech everything to death,” we could put the “machines” that actually could find a fossil on Mars, on Mars.

    We could pour NASA’s entire science budget into overcoming these disparities and still never come close to making our human space exploration program competitive with the equivalent robotic program.

    As you have pointed out yourself in a different context, that is critically dependent on the science you’re talking about. If you’re trying to find direct evidence of past life on a planet, robotic exploration at any level is wasted money. And, that goal is the advertised goal of the automated Mars program. Whenever a scientist states that they are looking for life, I am sure they believe what they’re saying, but at best they are fooling themselves. (I wrote an article for Space News on this subject a while back. The manager of NASA’s Mars program at the time wrote an, in my opinion, ill advised response that boiled down to, “Yes, Mr. Robertson is correct that we cannot find a fossil on Mars, but our robots do work and there are some things we can discover,” which I hardly dispute!)

    And when the private sector does have the orbital equivalents of GuessWho’s SUVs, gas stations, motels, and labs in place, then the barriers will have been lowered enough so that we can really pursue the kind of Apollo 17 science Mr. Robertson is so keen on.

    But, that won’t work. When was the last time that the private sector went into a new frontier with no market and put in infrastructure that wouldn’t pay off in a marketable product for decades? As with the Space Station, the government has to provide the initial markets that the private sector can bootstrap off of. And, without that infrastructure, we won’t have Apollo-17 on Mars (though Apollo-16 is a better example since her crew made discoveries that no automated probe has yet been able to duplicate) and we will never know whether there was once life on Mars (except, just possibly, if it is still extant).

    to earn a better return (scientific or otherwise) the smart money would bet on robotic exploration every time.

    But, only for the “easy” questions. Sure, we’ve got great pictures, but we still can’t accurately date anything but the lunar surface. You’ll never “understand” the lunar surface, let alone Mars, without tackling the hard-to-automate stuff like finding that rare one-of-a-very-small-number sample buried in a vast volume of drift. For example, I’ll bet money that if there is ice on the moon, it is well distributed, probably deeply buried, and certainly hard to find. Automated landers almost certainly are not going to cut it.

    On a more positive note, this comment of yours is especially interesting, I think the argument loses both technical and personal relevance if it goes much beyond our lifetimes, which, in my case, is probably another 20-40 years, because I think it hits the fundamental reason for our disagreement, we who agree on so much else. I don’t limit this to “our lifetimes,” especially since mine is getting on into its early evening. No one thinking at all thinks that the myriad worlds of the Solar System can be “explored” in any detail in anything less than thousands of years. My goal is not to understand the Solar System — which is clearly and absolutely impossible in any single lifetime — but to set up the conditions that might let future generations of scientists take a stab at it. To do that, we don’t have to go to Mars today, or tomorrow or even in the next century, but we do have to learn how to live and work in space so that we can do that someday. And, since we are capable of it, there is no better time than the present to get started.

    I have not and do not argue that we should retreat from automated exploration, but when that becomes the sole advertised reason and goal for the space endeavor, as it is with many scientists, than that is a cripplingly short-sighted view of the world because they will not achieve the understanding they want, while they may well deny it to future generations.

    But to pretend that all of science, or even just planetary science, can’t make great discoveries, construct, disprove, and confirm theories, and otherwise solve nature’s mysteries — or even just improve on current solar system dating — without human hands and pickaxes on the Moon or other research targets is just not true.

    In fairness to myself, I haven’t said that. There is a huge amount we can, and should, look at with automated spacecraft. What I have said is that there are discoveries (probably the vast majority of discoveries) that cannot be automated, and if we want to discover those things, we can’t do just “virtual exploration” alone, at least where we have a choice – today, that’s the moon, a few Earth-approach asteroids, and possibly the Martian moons. We have to keep very clear in our heads that what we are doing is reconnaissance. Science, real understanding, requires observation and experimentation; the latter is not a nice-to-have option.

    The Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, the age of the universe, the gravitational fate of the universe, and everything in between has been discovered and deduced without even a single human researcher ever running the astronomical equivalent of a tape measure or odometer between the stars and galaxies.

    As I argued a few years ago in this forum, I’m very dubious about a lot of this. First, you overstate your case. With a few exceptions, we haven’t “discovered” much of anything in cosmology, and I think we’ve “deduced” entirely too much. The archaeologist in me is reminded far too much of the cosmologies of earlier human civilizations, some of which were very intelligent and based on complex technical measurements, that were “deduced” from afar because that’s what they could do — but proved to be extremely limited subsets of what we now understand to be the truth at best, and usually dead wrong. I suspect that any Solar System wide civilization (with Solar System spanning instruments) looking back on our cosmology a thousand years from now will view our ideas much the same way. If we understand so much, why is it that, with one possible exception, no one “discovered” or “deduced” Io’s volcanoes or Europa’s probable oceans before we went there and looked, when in retrospect we had evidence and it should have been obvious? To quote an extreme version of a view that, at least in part, is entirely too common among cosmologists, I’ll believe an “end to physics” when we’ve physically explored, say, a percent or two of the universe. Until then, we’re guessing. That, of course, means we will never know much of anything, let alone everything, in cosmology – which is fine by me, who wants an end to discovery anyway?

    Scientists, if they are scientists and not modern day “witch doctors,” would have the guts to look beyond their immediate toys and accept and admit that.

    – Donald

  • kert

    >>Of course not, since there has been no investment in human exploration since Apollo. However, where we have invested, we have truly dramatic results.

    Er, ISS and STS have always been under “exploration” budget line. How many billions is all that, total ? Dramatic ? Yes. In most horrible way.

  • Monte Davis

    anonymous: It’s not a reflection of resource allocation. Per GuessWho, it’s a reflection of how much more extraordinarily difficult it is to support a human in space environments than a robot

    Exactly. The “humans vs. robots” argument, so often presented as if it were a deep philosophical-spiritual issue, is simply the challenge of CATS in another guise. Other things being equal, of course everyone — including every planetary scientist I’ve ever known — would prefer to have human investigators (and infrastructure for a long stay, and rovers, and a nice field lab, a-and a pony!) on the Moon or Mars or anywhere else.

    But at these launch prices per kg, other things are notequal: the real-world choice is between a very few very expensive manned expeditions at long intervals — with science wedged into the cracks of “get ‘em back alive” as it was in Apollo — and many more less expensive robots.

    The only “resolution” for this tired old pseudo-controversy will be not some grand new consensus on the primacy of humans or of robots… but access to space cheap enough that we can do plenty of both. At that point, all the column inches and bandwidth devoted to the Ineffable Value of the Hands-On Explorer will become as irrelevant as the Montgolfiers’ debates over whether to send up the chicken and sheep before the barometer or after.

  • kert

    I think you guys need to read the comments/responses to the Plan B article. Some of the stuff is simply hilarious
    thread here

    It looks like a bunch of guys at NASA are so far out of touch with reality, that there is no hope for them

  • Paul Dietz

    Monte: yes, the fact we are still having the debate at all is a damning indictment of what has been accomplished or is planned to be accomplished by NASA in the opening of space.

  • Monte: with science wedged into the cracks of “get ‘em back alive” as it was in Apollo.

    This is widely believed, but it is also untrue. Read, this.

    Paul, the fact we are still having the debate at all is a damning indictment of what has been accomplished or is planned to be accomplished by NASA in the opening of space

    This I agree with. However, launch prices won’t come down until there is a destination, and even then it’s likely to take multiple generations of development for a truly dramatic reduction. I have not said “opening space” would be easy, only necessary for science (as well as other activities). The reason, I think, that we have accomplished so little is that we have always tried for technological push (e.g,, with ever better rocket technology) rather than destination pull (by establishing a long-term base to serve as a market for better transportation). Now that we have such a base, we are starting to see the very beginnings of private investment in better transportation.

    If we want better transportation to the moon, somebody has to establish a reason for it to exist — first.

    – Donald

  • Ferris Valyn

    Donald – the problem is, while I think you might have a point about destination (not convinced of that, but the point is not without merit) I don’t think a scientific base whose sole purpose is to better understand scientifically the moon has any real chance of playing that destination that you want. You need something that can be seen as a true extention of humanity. I do think ISS will play a role in this, but it won’t be because of Nasa, it’ll be in spite of Nasa

  • Ferris, I don’t disagree with your comment, but I don’t think it matters. It does not matter why humanity puts a base somewhere, only that the base requires regular supply. It is the supply requirement, not (by itself) the reason for the base, that creates the market.

    In the past, may early markets on a frontier were created for imperial or religeous reasons having little or no rational basis. But, their existance allowed often private organizations to justify developing and maintaining supply routes. Thus, why or how NASA (or Biglow or somebody else) builds a base in space does not matter, only that it exists and someone’s willing to pay for supplying it.

    – Donald

  • Ferris Valyn

    Donald – it does matter for 2 reason (and I am ignoring the elephant in the room, that being we still haven’t actually commited any money to a moon base)
    1st, distance – Going on pure flight, a trip to the money is 3 days. When you add things like rendevous and docking with the current vehicles, orbital insertiion, that can add on one to two days (which means realistically, it might be closer to 5 days). This isn’t in itself a deal breaker, but it does make the engineering challenges daunting, for any organization/company/group.

    2nd – the amount of people and supplies – to interest private groups/industry, realistically, you need to have the potential for a lot of profit. That means realistically, something like monthly flights. This is something that is not in the cards for a base that has 3-6 people. Much more likely, a single flight every 6 months. Combine this with government controling access, and you don’t have the insentive.

    I won’t say these problems can’t be over come – one sure way to do it would be to allow anyone (or almost anyone) who wanted to add a module to a moonbase (or ISS) to do so for a fee. Without the possiblity of personal expansion, I just don’t see a base providing this possiblity. The potential for personal expansion is there in the current Bigelow stations (at least, it seems to me), since he will rent whole modules to anyone who has money. I don’t see that happening on ISS, and I have no reason to think it would happen with a moonbase.

  • anonymous

    “there has been no investment in human exploration since Apollo. However, where we have invested, we have truly dramatic results. Surely you are not going to argue that building the Space Station — the first large construction job in orbit – does not represent an advance over Mercury and Geminii.”

    The logic here is contradictory. We can’t say, out of one side of our mouth, that there has been no progress in human space exploration because there has been no investment in human space exploration; and then argue out the other side of our mouth that the assembly of the ISS — a $60-100 billion investment depending on who’s doing the counting — is a major advance supporting future human space exploration. We space cadets can’t have it both ways.

    “Well, maybe, but for all the zillions of dollars invested in these industries over many, many decades, plus Moore’s law,”

    But that’s exactly the point — that robotic space exploration leverages untold zillions of dollars of private investment in multiple industries over many decades, plus some very favorable physics, while many of the technologies necessary for human space exploration actually have no private sector application and investment and must fight uphill against some very unfavorable physics.

    I’m not arguing that we should abandon human space exploration forever, but why keep banging our heads against this wall? For now, let’s put our space exploration bucks where they’ll give us the biggest bang (aggresive robotic exploration) and put a hold on human space exploration until the Bigelows and Musks of the world can supply affordable, 21st-century equivalents of caravels and conestogas so that our human space exploration efforts are sustainable for once. Let’s wait on human space exploration until, like the industries supporting robotics, there’s actually a private human space flight industry to leverage off of.

    “the products of these industries still could not find a fossil on Mars.”

    How do we know? We have robots today that can autonomously seek out meteorites in Antartica and differentiate them from other geology. It’s not much of a stretch from there to robots that can differentiate fossils from other geology. For the next 10 to 100 years, an effective, fossil-seeking robot will be a lot closer to realization, a helluva lot more affordable, and much easier to field than a human Mars expendition.

    And besides, what makes us think that a few astronauts would do any better? Astronauts can only work a handful of hours per day; robots can work round the clock. Astronauts must spend a lot of their working time tending to the artificial environment that supports them; robots do not. An astronaut expedition can only stay on the surface of Mars for around a year; the Mars rovers are exceeding four years and the next rover has the potential to last a decade or more. Astronaut safety will demand a safe landing spot in what will likely be a geologically uninteresting location; robotic landings can take risks to reach geologically interesting locations. Astronauts will have a limited roving range; the range of robots will be limited only by their lifetimes. The number of astronaut missions will be greatly constrained by their high cost while manifold more robotic missions could be fielded for the same or much less cost. I could go on and on…

    And again, I’d point out that this robot versus astronaut discussion ignores one of the central strategies of the Mars program, which is to bring samples back to Earth, where the examination of samples for evidence of past life is not limited to a few tens of robots or a handful of astronauts but scores of labs and hundreds or thousands of scientists. No matter who or what is doing the fieldwork at Mars, verification, classification, and understanding of the samples and findings will take place on Earth.

    [quote]
    They couldn’t even, by themselves, assemble a complex machine like an aircraft or a skyscraper.
    [/quote]

    That’s due to the nature of those industries and the investment choices they’ve made, not the complexity of the assembly or robotic limitations. The assembly of other complex constructs, like automobiles, is highly automated today, for example.

    “I wrote an article for Space News on this subject a while back.”

    I apologize upfront if I sound like a jerk, but to be brutally honest, getting an op-ed printed in Space News does not mean that the argument in the op-ed stands up to any level of scrutiny. Space News is an industry rag with very low editorial standards and practically no peer review. Get the same article published in a relevant, peer-reviewed journal like Space Policy, and it would be much more impressive. (And maybe you have and I’m just not aware and should shut up.)

    “The manager of NASA’s Mars program at the time wrote an, in my opinion, ill advised response that boiled down to, “Yes, Mr. Robertson is correct that we cannot find a fossil on Mars, but our robots do work and there are some things we can discover,” which I hardly dispute!”

    The exchange shows a deep lack of understanding about the science strategy behind the Mars program and where the program is at today in executing that strategy. The ultimate goal of the program is to find life but the strategy is to first identify potential habitable environments, i.e., “follow the water”. And that’s what the current rovers and orbiters are focused on and designed for. Once those habitats are identified, then the strategy is to send rover and sample return missions capable of identifying life.

    An analogy from you own archeological background — you don’t go digging up fossils until you’ve identify geology that supports them and the substrate that corresponds to the chronology you’re interested in.

    “But, that won’t work. When was the last time that the private sector went into a new frontier with no market and put in infrastructure that wouldn’t pay off in a marketable product for decades?”

    That’s your argument, not mine. I have not and would never argue that the government should invest in multi-ten billion-dollar efforts, like the ISS or a lunar base, for the sake of a few measly billions in private investment to try service those destinations.

    Rather, what I’m arguing is that the government should wait until there is actually a human space flight industry (in Earth orbit is fine) to leverage – again, the equivalent of ships and wagons built for private purposes but that can be adapted to exploration applications. Until then, the government costs of establishing the destinations you’re interested in will continue to be too exorbitant to ever justify the private investments made to service them.

    “As with the Space Station, the government has to provide the initial markets that the private sector can bootstrap off of.”

    I understand the abstract logic of your argument, but the disparity between the public investments and the private investments involved, and the incredible time lag between the public investments and the private investments, shows the argument to be false, at least as it applies to space or NASA in the real world.

    Depending on who’s doing the accounting, by the time its assembly is complete in 2010 or thereabouts, we will have spent $60 to $100 billion on the Space Station over more than two decades. NASA’s investment in COTS is a little less than $500 million, and even in the wildest 10-to-1 cost-sharing scenario, would only produce a maximum of $5 billion in private investment towards the end of those two decades. That’s a delay of about 20 years in the startup of commercial investment and a return on the government’s money of between –91% and –95% (yes, minus 91 to 95 percent). The logic, especially as it applies to space and NASA, just breaks down under the real-world numbers.

    Instead of wasting so many precious taxpayer dollars on such an expensive, government-designed, -built, and –managed facility and then tacking on a little commercial COTS effort at the end, NASA could have just bought commercial from the get-go. For example, NASA could have purchased or just rented services from the Industrial Space Facility (ISF), proposed by Max Faget’s Space Industries Inc. back in 1982, for about $250 million in then-year dollars. Even accounting for inflation, by now, the nation could have had literally scores of privately designed, built, and operated space stations on the ISF model for the cost of ISS. (The STS could only have supported a handful of these private space stations, but the point is still valid.)

    Or, instead of wasting so many precious taxpayer dollars on such an expensive, government-designed, -built, and –managed facility and then tacking on a little commercial COTS effort at the end, NASA could have focused its dollars on key technologies to support a vibrant commercial human space flight sector. For example, JSC spent probably only a few tens of millions of dollars, a $100 million tops, on the inflatable module technology that Bigelow is using for his space stations. Imagine how much farther along we’d be if the $60-100 billion spent on ISS (or some small fraction thereof) went into similar investments – starting a couple decades ago – instead of ISS?

  • anonymous

    “we will never know whether there was once life on Mars (except, just possibly, if it is still extant).”

    This argument ignores the actual Mars exploration strategy, especially sample return, and is absent any of the cost analysis necessary to perform apples-to-apples comparisons of robotic and human exploration investments and missions.

    “You’ll never “understand” the lunar surface, let alone Mars, without tackling the hard-to-automate stuff like finding that rare one-of-a-very-small-number sample buried in a vast volume of drift.”

    But we have robots – built on shoestring grant budgets — that can autonomously and accurately sort a handful or two meteorites from hundreds of other geological samples in Antarctica today. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine teams of more advanced robots combing through regolith or drift for similar, hard-to-find samples. In fact, computers and robots excel at tedious and highly repetitive tasks.

    “For example, I’ll bet money that if there is ice on the moon, it is well distributed, probably deeply buried, and certainly hard to find. Automated landers almost certainly are not going to cut it.”

    In terms of finding thinly distributed and/or deeply buried lunar ice, a fixed human base, with limited roving and remote sensing capabilities, is going to be at a disadvantage to orbiters with deep ground-penetrating instruments and robotic landers/rovers that can go anywhere. In terms of verifying the discovery, again, the infrastructure and safety concerns associated with putting astronauts at the site and around heavy drilling machinery will put humans at a disadvantage to aggressive robotic drilling and sample return missions, which carry a much less expensive infrastructure burden and no human safety concerns. And if verification is performed via penetrators (like LCROSS), astronauts are irrelevant.

    “My goal is not to understand the Solar System — which is clearly and absolutely impossible in any single lifetime — but to set up the conditions that might let future generations of scientists take a stab at it.”

    And those conditions are better created by undertaking an aggressive program of robotic and telescopic exploration and stimulating and leveraging the private human space flight industry than by spending the next quarter century reenacting the Apollo effort of four decades ago.
    Over the next quarter century, I’d much rather leave my children or grandchildren a legacy of rovers on and samples from Mars and Enceladus, of submarines exploring the ocean of Europa, of aircraft exploring the early organic atmosphere of Titan, of advanced telescopes imaging Earth-like worlds around other planets, and of vibrant private Earth orbital transport systems and industries.

    That legacy will do so much more to make human space exploration desirable, affordable, and sustainable for future generations than one government-run, four-person repeat of Apollo at the lunar south pole.

    “Science, real understanding, requires observation and experimentation; the latter is not a nice-to-have option.”

    Agreed. And in terms of experimentation, science is much better served by multiple robotic sample returns — putting hundreds of highly diverse samples from across a planetary target into the hands of thousands of scientists at scores of Earth-based laboratories – than putting one, two, or a few part-time scientists/astronauts at one or two locations on a planetary target.

    “As I argued a few years ago in this forum, I’m very dubious about a lot of this. First, you overstate your case. With a few exceptions, we haven’t “discovered” much of anything in cosmology, and I think we’ve “deduced” entirely too much.”

    Discovery always involves deduction. Making deductions from observations is the very definition of science. Quibbling over whether Hubble discovered or deduced from redshifts that all galaxies are moving away from the Milky Way is no different than quibbling over whether an archeologist discovered or deduced that a fossil represents a missing link in an evolutionary chain. Just as Hubble cannot travel to the galaxies and directly measure how their distances are changing with time, neither can the archeologist travel back in time and directly observe the process of evolution. Humans are not omniscient or omnipresent – we must deduce all the time from indirect observation to understand the nature of reality and nature’s processes.

    “Scientists, if they are scientists and not modern day “witch doctors,” would have the guts to look beyond their immediate toys and accept and admit that.”

    This statement is narrow, extreme, out of touch with how science (or just human comprehension) actually works, and full of hyperbole. To compare the practice of modern astrophysics to ancient cosmological mythmaking is like comparing modern Mesozoic paleontology to ancient dragon mythology. There is a world of difference between “witch doctors”, religious leaders, and ancient philosophers narrating stories to explain natural phenomena, and modern scientists (of any stripe) continually testing their theories about the nature of reality against every increasing observations.

    And I thought only the Kansas State School Board created ridiculous analogies to discredit the practice of science.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>