NASA

Pluto, no. Mars, yes. Alien life, definitely.

Last week, after astronomers announced the discovery of a fifth moon orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto in images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the web site The Capitol Column openly pondered the effect that discovery would have on the NASA budget: “It may have taken the discovery of a new moon to finally get members of Congress to reconsider major funding cuts in NASA’s budget,” the article’s lede claimed, adding that “the discovery may be enough to save the Hubble Space Telescope’s successor, the James Webb Telescope.” The un-bylined article offered no evidence that members of Congress were reconsidering NASA’s funding levels in the wake of this finding, and such a development does seem implausible.

While an additional moon orbiting Pluto might not do much for NASA or its science programs, a key NASA official said this week that another upcoming event may play a big role. Speaking at the “NASA Night” portion of the Lunar Science Forum being held this week at NASA’s Ames Research Center (and also webcast), Jim Green, the planetary sciences division director within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, suggested the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission on the night of August 5 could significantly affect the agency’s planetary sciences program and budget.

“It’s absolutely essential for everybody in this room to recognize that, whether you’ve been following this or not, this is going to have an enormous effect on you, personally,” he told a room filled primarily with lunar scientists. “Whether it’s successful or not successful, it will have an enormous effect on the planetary budget, and therefore, all of our careers.”

Green, confirming comments made Monday by MSL project officials at a NASA Headquarters press conference, said the spacecraft was doing well. “I think we have done everything humanly possible to give this mission the greatest chance of success,” he said. “The landing of MSL will be absolutely critical, and we really need to take note of what’s going to happen here.”

Green acknowledged that current “austere budget times” have adversely affected NASA’s planetary sciences program, forcing the agency to stretch out the time between calls for Discovery and New Frontiers missions. However, he said he remained committed to adhering to the overall framework for planetary exploration for the next decade outlined in the decadal survey released last year. “We cannot blink. The planetary decadal is a well-laid-out document,” he said, citing the “decision rules” in the report that specified what NASA should do if funding fell short of what was needed to carry out the missions prioritized in the study. “We can’t give that up. If we do, we will be lost, not for a few years, but for ten years.”

The coming years, he said, will see a closer relationship between the science and human spaceflight directorates of NASA in order to help support plans for future human missions to near Earth asteroids and Mars. “We always knew that science and human exploration would have to get closer together as exploration moves out form low Earth orbit,” he said. That’s already happening with cooperation on studies of future Mars missions in the 2018 and 2020 launch windows, replacing planned NASA contributions to ESA’s ExoMars missions. “And for Mars, we’re doing it sooner rather than later. As we look at potentially the next set of missions in the late decade, we will see, I believe, a lot closer tie with exploration.”

That changing relationship will impact some of the lunar scientists present, though. Green said that NASA is planning to “recharter” the NASA Lunar Science Institute, the Ames-based organization that supports several research teams on lunar science research and runs the Lunar Science Forum. The new organization will have a broader, more “flexible path” focus, that includes the Moon as well as Mars and asteroids.

While Green said the success (or failure) of MSL will have a major effect on the agency’s planetary science program, he said there was one other potential discovery that could have an even greater effect. “I want to be the director of the planetary science division when we find life beyond Earth,” he said to applause from the audience. “That indeed will change everything, I believe, in major ways about the importance of planetary science and maybe hasten the opportunities that are delineated in the decadal in many different ways, for which exploration of the Moon has got to be part of it, too.”

44 comments to Pluto, no. Mars, yes. Alien life, definitely.

  • Coastal Ron

    Success of the MSL could be a PR boon to NASA just like the success of the Dragon flight to the ISS was. All of that builds the impression in the publics mind that NASA is doing things, and doing things exciting and challenging.

    Of course it is Congress that ultimately needs to be persuaded to fund future NASA activity, but many in Congress who are not part of the NASA committees will be more likely to support NASA funding if they see success than if they see failure – it’s human nature.

    Now if we can just get them to stop funding a gigantic, unneeded rocket, and redirect that funding to exploration hardware (the SLS is transportation, not exploration hardware), then we can speed up the rate NASA can show positive results.

    Go MSL!

  • amightywind

    I do agree the MSL landing is critical for the planetary program and wish them well. Though I have grave doubts about the choice landing site, MSL could be a quantum leap over an already amazing US rover capability. But it didn’t have to come to this.l It was extraordinarily, and foolishly risky for the program to so radically break technological continuity with the Mars Exploration Rovers. Who is the architect? This ‘Battlestar Gallactica’ has better damn well work.. Glad its not my head on the guillotine.

  • Vladislaw

    Isn’t the Lunar Science Institute where Paul Spudis operates from?

    Wonder what he thinks about rechartering it to include asteroids and Mars?

  • McGriddle

    Now if we can just get them to stop funding a gigantic, unneeded rocket, and redirect that funding to exploration hardware (the SLS is transportation, not exploration hardware)

    Now that has to be one of the most bone-headed, inane comments ever on this site.

  • amightywind

    Now if we can just get them to stop funding a gigantic, unneeded rocket

    If the Newspace flash mob couldn’t do that in 2010, they’ll never do it now. You’ll have to hope for failure, which is a common hope among the many America haters here.

  • I agree with Coastal Ron. If we are ever to seriously expand into the Solar System, we need to develop smaller and faster strategies that rely on living off the land, rather than launch super-heavy spacecraft from Earth. Thinking we can export everything we need from Earth on giant rockets is “bone-headed.” The heavy lift EELVs and Falcon-9 are large enough and already developed. At this point, our money should be spent on landers, and exploration and regolith mining technology, not on giant launch vehicles.

    The ironic thing is that MSL is the automated analogue of the SLS. We could have built an awful lot of low-cost copies of Opportunity and landed all of them for what MSL has cost. One could make an argument that you would have got a much broader, if less detailed, survey of Mars if we had spent our money that way — as I have argued in an Op Ed in this Space News,

    https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.spacenews.com/resource-center/sn_pdfs/SPN_20090323_Mar_2009.pdf&sa=U&ei=PE4IUP6xL8HKhAfYo-HDAw&ved=0CBEQFjAG&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNFT4R7NwYtKbELajIOWx5hmGC-ASQ

    Going forward, at least in transportation, smaller is better.

    – Donald

  • Rhyolite

    “suggested the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission on the night of August 5 could significantly affect the agency’s planetary sciences program and budget.”

    “The landing of MSL will be absolutely critical”

    “While Green said the success (or failure) of MSL will have a major effect on the agency’s planetary science program”

    Too many eggs in one basket. Failure is a real possibility in any exploration venture so you shouldn’t bet the farm on success.

  • Vladislaw

    Personally, there will be a time for BDB’s. Just when there is a market demand for it and delivered by prices closer to what SpaceX quotes, 300 million for 150 tons. Not the 2 billion a launch for the Ares V. And certainly not for the Billion dollars a launch for the 70 ton SLS.

  • DCSCA

    “It may have taken the discovery of a new moon to finally get members of Congress to reconsider major funding cuts in NASA’s budget,” the article’s lede claimed, adding that “the discovery may be enough to save the Hubble Space Telescope’s successor, the James Webb Telescope.”

    Except it doesn’t. Quite the contrary.

    So the 20 year old HST found a fifth moon zippin around Pluto. In other words, HST is still hard at work, making discoveries just fine, which highlights what an utter waste of dwindling resources it is to keep funding the massively over budget, JWST project in the Age of Austerity.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “It was extraordinarily, and foolishly risky for the program to so radically break technological continuity with the Mars Exploration Rovers.”

    JPL had no choice but to go with a different landing system. The SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument suite is huge — it takes up half of MSL’s payload mass. That drove a much larger rover, which far exceeded the mass limits of the airbags used on MERS. They had to go with an alternate landing system.

    Whether the skycrane is the right alternate, whether the system will work based on modeling alone with no flight tests, and what extensibility it will have to future Mars missions all remain to be seen.

  • Please forgive the nitpicky astrophysicist, but the sentence in the above article stating, “Last week, after astronomers announced the discovery of a fifth planet orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto in images from the Hubble Space Telescope” should instead read, “Last week, after astronomers announced the discovery of a fifth moon orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto in images from the Hubble Space Telescope”

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Now that has to be one of the most bone-headed, inane comments ever on this site.”

    The comment is very relevant. Cost growth on SLS’s predecessors (Ares I/V) forced deep cuts in the Mars Exploration Program under Bush II/Griffin. And thanks to the SLS/MPCV funding levels in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, further cuts have been made to the Mars Exploration Program under Obama/Bolden.

    Going back to the original post, Greene is right that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would be a huge gamechanger for the planetary program. But thanks to Constellation and SLS/MPCV, he no longer has the funding to carry out such a program. There is no money for a mission to Europa or other water-bearing outer moons, and the Mars program is essentially on hiatus until the 2020s.

  • Oops, just noticed it is referred to as a moon elsewhere in the article, so the mistake in the first sentence can be overlooked as a typo.

    If MSL makes it down in one piece it will be an awesome accomplishment. But agreed it’s radical new landing procedure is very risky. I’ve got my fingers crossed. As Ron said, “Go MSL!”

  • DCSCA

    “Jim Green, the planetary sciences division director within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, suggested the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission on the night of August 5 could significantly affect the agency’s planetary sciences program and budget.”

    ‘Could?’ He means should. Duh.

    In fact, a lot more is riding with- and on, ‘Curiosity.’ If that ‘Rube Goldberg’ landing sequence succeeds, let the champagne and government funding flow– if it fails and craters a $1.2 billion rover into a pile of radioactive junk, the project will be junked and the funding terminated. Then they can turn to the private sector to beg, borrow and steal to finance one-ff probes for Martian microbes– it fits with Musk’s Martian retirement plan. =eyeroll=

    “[Jim Green] want[s] to be the director of the planetary science division when we find life beyond Earth,” he said to applause from the audience. “That indeed will change everything…”

    Maybe he should re-read ‘The Andromeda Strain’ while he’s waiting. No doubt the endlessly percolating minds in dark corners of the DoD have plans for such a ‘find’ as well…. “Jeremy, those are germ warfare maps!” ;-)

  • Coastal Ron

    McGriddle wrote @ July 19th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Now that has to be one of the most bone-headed, inane comments ever on this site.

    That may be your supposition, but you have failed to provide any convincing reasons for why it is.

    Certainly from the standpoint of robotic exploration (the topic of this post) the SLS is not only unnecessary, but it clearly is consuming funds that could be used instead for more robotic missions.

    Many people (and quite a few trolls) have argued that the SLS enables human exploration, but they have never been able to show how the SLS will be able to be used within the current NASA budget profile. No one. The only way to use the SLS is to defund other NASA departments, and even then the SLS will likely only be used once or twice per decade because of the $10B+ cost of building SLS-sized mission payloads (the only reason to use the SLS). That’s not enough flights to justify it’s survival.

    On the flip side there have been many proposals from both NASA and the aerospace industry (ULA’s is a favorite of mine) that show we can do robust HSF exploration with the current family of rockets and STILL have money left over in the current NASA budget for exploration hardware. No need to wait a decade for a rocket, and no need to ask the U.S. Taxpayer for a budget increase – that’s a win-win if I’ve ever heard one.

    So what say you?

  • Dave Klingler

    @Amightywind:

    [Now if we can just get them to stop funding a gigantic, unneeded rocket...]

    “If the Newspace flash mob couldn’t do that in 2010, they’ll never do it now. You’ll have to hope for failure, which is a common hope among the many America haters here.”

    The pride and patriotism one might feel when considering the Apollo program are not good lenses with which to view Constellation, SLS, the MSL or any other space endeavour. Identifying Constellation and SLS as colossal wastes of money and human lives does not, I don’t believe, make me an ‘America-hater’.

    The sea change we’ve been granted by attempting to have the government stop choosing the same old winners in our space economy should not only be testimony to the strength of the policy but also to the fact that America can still surprise the world with amazing innovations. You would be a far more plausible patriot if you stopped clinging to a forty-year-old vision and took pride in a new vision of American private industry. My own memory of Apollo does better when I recognize what America has done recently.

    As for MSL, well, that took some balls to design, didn’t it? I think we all hope it works.

  • joe

    Vladislaw wrote @ July 19th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    “Isn’t the Lunar Science Institute where Paul Spudis operates from?
    Wonder what he thinks about rechartering it to include asteroids and Mars?”

    No, they are two different organizations.

    http://lunarscience.nasa.gov/

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/

  • Coastal Ron

    joe wrote @ July 19th, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    No, they are two different organizations.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    From the post above:

    Green said that NASA is planning to “recharter” the NASA Lunar Science Institute… The new organization will have a broader, more “flexible path” focus, that includes the Moon as well as Mars and asteroids.

    I would think this makes a lot of sense, as there may be some specific focus on the particulars of different masses in space, but asteroids likely hold many of the same elements that can be found on the Moon, so why not co-locate the specialists that focus on them? And for now lumping Mars into that seems to make sense too, until an overriding reason is found.

    Absent a funded reason to keep them separate, if it costs less, then why not? Sure politics would be involved, but that is a politicians concern, not a taxpayer one.

  • Jeff Foust

    Please forgive the nitpicky astrophysicist…

    The typo you mentioned has been corrected, Dr. Boozer.

  • Jeff Foust

    I would think this makes a lot of sense, as there may be some specific focus on the particulars of different masses in space, but asteroids likely hold many of the same elements that can be found on the Moon, so why not co-locate the specialists that focus on them?

    It is worth noting that NLSI is a “virtual” institute: while it is operated out of NASA Ames, most of the researchers are based at their home institutions scattered across the country. LPI is one of the participating institutions in NLSI.

  • vulture4

    At present it is impossible for NASA to trade off resources for human BEO flight against robotic planetary missions. That’s unfortunate because at the present time robotic missions are far more productive for any BLEO mission. Although MSL was over budget it was nothing compared to Constellation, and for another 30% in cost a second spacecraft could have been sent. Investment in human flight to Mars at present serves no purpose as such missions cannot be affordably accomplished with current technology.

  • BRC

    Dark Blue Nine wrote @ July 19th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    “Whether the skycrane is the right alternate, whether the system will work based on modeling alone with no flight tests, and what extensibility it will have to future Mars missions all remain to be seen”

    And of course we all are crossing our fingers (and toes & eyes & anything else we have a pair of) for this thing to work. My techno-boogymen here are (1) how well this thing’s cable deployment system will work (no sticking, no twisting) and (2) the confidence these cables will cleanly release from the MSL (and avoid taking it for a little “drag race” across the ground). But if this skycrane works, not only “Huzzah” for the MSL mission, but then now we may have a potentially viable landing system for even larger rovers (maybe even of the human-occupiable variety).

  • GeeSpace

    The future of NASA funding and missions (human and robotic) should not depend on the success or failure of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or any one mission.

    Secondly, didn’t President Obama, 2 years ago, state that missions to the Moon should not be part of the US space program because we (the USA) did that and done that? So why is NASA spending money on moon related missions?

  • BRC wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 8:31 am
    but then now we may have a potentially viable landing system for even larger rovers (maybe even of the human-occupiable variety).>>

    curious here…why? It certainly cannot be the prop savings…other then dust and the modest, dont have to have lander legs…what is the advantage? RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    GeeSpace wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Secondly, didn’t President Obama, 2 years ago, state that missions to the Moon should not be part of the US space program because we (the USA) did that and done that? So why is NASA spending money on moon related missions?

    Obama stated that the next human mission beyond LEO would be to an asteroid, since that had never been done (like going to the Moon had) and it gets us closer to eventually reaching Mars.

    The Moon has never been put “off-limits”, despite what Moon supporters say or think. The Moon is still an area of interest, just as asteroids and distant stars are, and I hope we can start up a robotic exploration program soon.

  • E.P. Grondine

    My space priorities differ from nearly every “space enthusiast’s”, and I have a very different answer to the “Why?’ question than everyone else here.

    I think that perhaps the definitive documentation of any one impact crater from the mammoth killer comet impact will drastically change our nation’s space science priorities.

    Aside from that:

    “You better hope
    there’s intelligent life in space
    ’cause there’s damn’d all
    little here on Earth”

  • amightywind

    It certainly cannot be the prop savings…other then dust and the modest, dont have to have lander legs…what is the advantage?

    MSL landing speed will be about 2 MPH, which is phenomenally low. No need to worry about propulsion disturbances due to ground effects. The payload can be more specifically engineered for its tasks rather than be integrated into a lander and strengthened against shock. One could imagine such a common vehicle delivering habitats or life support equipment. I think the sky crane is clever, dramatic, and dare I say, uniquely American solution!

    Congratulations to the crew of Apollo 11 on this 43rd anniversary of the first lunar landing. Will we ever go again?

  • BRC wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 8:31 am

    My technology boogy man come from watching sling loads on helicopters…and they are not “going down” ie descending…RGO

  • RockyMtnSpace

    RGO – “… Why?” – no legs to fail, no ramp required for rover egress, minimal surface disturbance from landing/braking thrusters. Remember, Phoenix had not successfully landed yet when MSL was well through its design/development. Also, JPL always likes to do it the most complicated way as it provides an “engineering challenge”. Manned landers will be rockets all the way to the surface with legs as this is the most mission robust way of getting to the surface. I don’t see much utility of this approach moving forward beyond mid-sized rovers like MSL.

  • GeeSpace wrote:

    Secondly, didn’t President Obama, 2 years ago, state that missions to the Moon should not be part of the US space program because we (the USA) did that and done that? So why is NASA spending money on moon related missions?

    Congress determines space policy, not the President.

    I wish more people would grasp this.

  • amightywind wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 1:41 pm
    ?

    MSL landing speed will be about 2 MPH, which is phenomenally low. No need to worry about propulsion disturbances due to ground effects. The payload can be more specifically engineered for its tasks rather than be integrated into a lander and strengthened against shock”

    Really?

    They might get 2 mph or as I have seen a lot of sling loads from helos and the V-22 they might just “bang” down on the ground…in any event surely the lander is good for that.

    “specific disturbances due to ground effects”. OK I really dont understand this one. its a rover…it moves to sample different things. I bet the thing gets covered with rocket exhaust

    still trying to figure out the advantage here..RGO

  • BRC

    First, on consideration of the current payload in question (MSL): Rover’s size has been compared to that of a mini-cooper, it weighs about a ton, the sucker’s nuclear, has sensitive science equipment whose owners are paranoid about fought handling (and is worth almost $2B).

    Regarding a straightforward decent-to-surface rocket-powered landing system along the lines of the old Lunar Module’s decent stage, with the MSL atop that.:

    — in addition to plume contamination of the local area, and kicking up dust (and rocks that can inadvertently hit the base), it would not be as gentle as a hovering craft would be in lowering its oversized cargo down.

    – on the subject of added mass, it’s much more than just adding deployable legs — and with legs strong enough not only to hold up the MSL on touch-down, but also the t-d impact on the stage itself .

    – The lander’s structural base area would also have to be made larger. Right now the Skycrane is actually smaller in area size to the MSL beneath it (you might even look at it as, the Skycrane is secured to the MSL, rather than the other way around).

    – However, to opt for a direct to surface decent stage, it must not only support & secure a martian mini-cooper that’s now sitting atop it, but that stage’s top platform area would need to be itself up-sized in order to give the MSL room enough to safely stand up, deploy wheels, & move towards a disembarkation point — all without falling sideways over the edges.

    – And of course, imagine having the rover un-latch, stand-up, deploy ramp and roll off (w/o falling off), if that lander had touched down at an angle or with large rocks blocking any ramp.
    (The Skycrane, OTOH would have fine tuned its delivery point first, and lower the rover on three bridle cables & umbilical, which would help keep any oscillations at bay until touch-down; by then the rover will already have had its wheels deployed and ready to maneuver in any direction, once landed).

    - Oh, yes, getting off a lander: In addition, to a safe and even-keel landing, that stage must obviously have a system allowing the rover to safely reach the surface from it’s top perch. You;d think that the most logical way would be a simple fold-out ramp,..BUT: remember, this MSL puppy is car-sized:, weighing ~2000 lbs — even at Mars gravity, that still a whooping 750+ lbs that has to roll-down that ramp from a height of several feet (my guess, given MSL’s scale is from 6+ ft)

    Okay…. that whole messy bit was just my response to a lander for the MSL — a mini-cooper sized (& 1 ton) rover. Now imagine future rovers the size of an SUV… a Big one, or a Martian Hummer, or any large and/or odd-shaped cargo that you don’t want to have on a top-heavy legged stage that would have to be scaled up to carry and unload from the surface. And of course remember, it is not just the added mass of a large payload — it’s the shape (even if all folded up at first)

    Remember, the Skycrane is named after its Sikorsky helicopter namesake — a heavy lift aircraft that was designed to lift & carry over/odd sized cargo (like large empty tanks, or logs, or tanks even), but didn’t need to be bodily scaled up to physically carry them in the “conventional” manner – from a structuraly reenforced internal cargo deck.

  • BRC

    BRC wrote @
    “…or tanks even”

    By that, I meant of the tracked armoured variety 8-)

  • amightywind

    “specific disturbances due to ground effects”

    I said propulsion disturbances. For example, a side hill landing spot. A rock strewn non-homogeneous surface makes thruster performance less predictable near the ground.

    I bet the thing gets covered with rocket exhaust

    I think that is a hazard too. The thrusters seem to direct exhaust away from the tether axis at 45 degrees.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “My techno-boogymen here are (1) how well this thing’s cable deployment system will work (no sticking, no twisting) and (2) the confidence these cables will cleanly release from the MSL (and avoid taking it for a little “drag race” across the ground).”

    Those are good points. But even before the cable system deploys, I have serious doubts that the EDL system will be able to know its position precisely enough relative to the ground to start the exquisitely timed hover sequence without going splat from too high or too low an ignition. And then I have questions about whether the system will be able to maintain a steady enough hover to safely deploy the rover (basically your #2). This is something we’ve only just learned/relearned thanks to the efforts of Armadillo/Masten, and I’m not sure they could routinely deploy a cabled payload from one of their vehicles from a half-klick away. And JPL is trying to do it 150 million klicks away on another planet. And without the practice that Armadillo/Masten have put into their vehicles. The deck seems stacked against MSL’s EDL working.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed, too. But to be brutally honest, the system smacks of the same kind of unflown, Rube Goldberg contraption seen in the thrust oscillation mitigation systems on Ares I that doomed that effort. I hope I’m wrong, but I would never bet any actual money on the MSL EDL.

    My 2 cents. Again, I really hope that I’m wrong.

  • Heinrich Monroe

    Isn’t the Lunar Science Institute where Paul Spudis operates from?

    Wonder what he thinks about rechartering it to include asteroids and Mars?

    Even though, as pointed out, Spudis doesn’t work at the Lunar Science Institute, but rather at the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute, I’ll tell you precisely what the lunar science community feels about the rechartering of the LSI (which will also result in renaming it). The HATE it!

    The LEAG (Lunar Exploration and Analysis Group) that does lunar strategy analysis for NASA has submitted a letter to Gerst and Grunsfeld expressing extreme displeasure with the rechartering.

    In their view, such an action dilutes the focus of this group and, from their admittedly not-independent perspective, unproductively pulls funding away from lunar science.

    Not clear why they waited so long to send this letter, as the rechartering intent has been on the street for months.

    It is a fact that the rechartering would more heavily involve HEOMD in the institute funding, and also a fact that from the perspective of the 9th floor, the formal policy is that the next destination for humans beyond LEO is an asteroid, not the Moon.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ almightywind:

    “It was extraordinarily, and foolishly risky for the program to so radically break technological continuity with the Mars Exploration Rovers.”

    Um, what!? It closely *follows* the EDL developed with the Viking. It is larger, so the same profile shield, supersonic chute and rockets is scaled up. They use the same mass drop technique for GC control. They use the same type of skycrane on top with cable beneath that landed the MERs. They use the same radar distance sensor.

    The incremental change is that they steer more for a smaller landing ellipse, they use that for a more horizontal ballistic descent with S-curves for braking. They also do away with the balloons and steer the skycrane away to accommodate the larger mass. Small, but vital, changes allowing for a much smaller landing ellipse and much larger payload mass.

    @ Robert G. Oler:

    “OK I really dont understand this one. its a rover…it moves to sample different things. I bet the thing gets covered with rocket exhaust”.

    I dunno about ground effects, but the line drop and skycrane evac maneuver is performed to avoid having to cover up the rover from dust blow-back. It saves mass, especially since you can use the rover legs as landing legs.

  • E.P. Grondine

    If MSL belly flops, could someone actually be fired and Donna Shirely brought back in?

    I read ATK is at work on the composite truss structure for the NGST. Oh boy.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Correction:

    “And pray that there’s intelligent life
    somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.”

  • BRC wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    (The Skycrane, OTOH would have fine tuned its delivery point first,>>

    thank you for the informative note…I am trying to “fine tune” my knowledge base here before forming an opinion, not that it matters.

    SO the hovering skycrane as its getting ready to deploy the rover can figure out by some method (Radar, FLIR what?) that it is getting ready to set the rover down on say a boulder? RGO

  • BRC wrote @ July 20th, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    “Remember, the Skycrane is named after its Sikorsky helicopter namesake — a heavy lift aircraft that was designed to lift & carry over/odd sized cargo (like large empty tanks, or logs, or tanks even), but didn’t need to be bodily scaled up to physically carry them in the “conventional” manner – from a structuraly reenforced internal cargo deck.”

    BUt I dont think Skycranes let their loads “deploy” downward. the Skycrane helicopter was/is adept at doing two things. It could carry a prepackaged “bus” that could be set down and detached (with the helicopter off) or attached. And it was good at carrying sling loads. To the best of my knowledge it never had a “bus” attached that it then dropped from its carry position and then “winched” down.

    I share DSN and “winds” concerns here (but wish everyone luck)…and have a few of my own…

    but I will say this…a lot is rolled up in this lander. We could have had 6 MER for the price of this thing…or four MER’s and 2-3 satellites in mars orbit that acted like GPS/Relay satellites.

    If it goes splat…wow there are going to be some crying times. RGO

  • E.P. Grondine

    RGO –

    How about if instead of crying we all just insist NASA hire some better engineers in the Science division?

  • Vladislaw

    along with some deadly serious bean counters who will literally hold feet to the fire about costs and the historic overuns.

  • Googaw

    Congratulations to the crew of Apollo 11 on this 43rd anniversary of the first lunar landing. Will we ever go again?

    Ever? Why is it that the astronaut cult swings between preposterous mania and dire depression? Our children and their children and so on many generations down will be around to go to it. Meanwhile, hundreds (thousands? millions?) of robots will go to the moon and many other places in space doing a far better job than an astronaut could do at a tiny fraction of the cost.

    The astronaut cult will get its useless heavenly pilgrims back to the moon. Just, quite likely, not in our lifetimes. Get over it.

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