NASA, Other

Buzz Aldrin wants NASA to go to Mars, not grab an asteroid

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin has no shortage of opinions of what the US should be doing in space, and how. In a speech Wednesday at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, he emphasized his belief that NASA should be focused on sending people to Mars—to stay—and shouldn’t be distracted by other options, including NASA’s new plan to redirect an asteroid into cislunar space.

“Mars is our next ultimate destination,” Aldrin said in his speech. “We need global cooperation in order to make this happen,” he added, but said that NASA should take a leadership role, particularly in the development of human space transportation systems. “The US needs to begin the homesteading and settlement of Mars. It’s within reach, technically and budgetarily. Even in a period of fiscal challenges, the US needs to consider this program with long-term planning.”

Aldrin went into considerable technical detail about his concepts of Mars exploration, including the “cycler” spacecraft concept he has refined over the years. He also described his “Unified Space Vision”, a detailed architecture of missions leading up to Mars he has also developed over the last several years.

Aldrin’s Mars architecture includes trips to comets and near Earth asteroids as stepping stones to Mars. However, he indicated he didn’t like NASA’s new asteroid initiative, which calls for redirecting a small near Earth asteroid into lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts. “Bringing an asteroid back to Earth? What does that have to do with exploration?” he asked, rhetorically. “Not very much, in my way of thinking.” He said he interpreted the original asteroid mission goal—a visit to a near Earth asteroid by 2025, as laid out by President Obama in 2010—as “a good stopping point” in an extension outward of NASA’s human spaceflight program. “Now it’s turned into a whole planetary defense exercise at the cost of extending our exploration capabilities.”

Aldrin was also critical of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift launch vehicle, without mentioning it by name. Noting at Inspiration Mars, the non-profit venture established by Dennis Tito that announced plans earlier this year for a human Mars flyby mission in 2018, has shown an interest in using the SLS, Aldrin warned that this mission should not “justify a launch vehicle designed by Marshall Space Flight Center to have, according to law, heritage components,” he said. “To me, that means old stuff. That means things people are working on now, so we don’t have to develop new things. And because of that wondrous career for those people working on heritage components, they’re going to vote for the senator that managed to bring that up.”

While Aldrin advocates human missions to, and settlement of, Mars, he’s not expecting the current administration to make that the goal for NASA. Instead, he’s looking ahead to 2020, around the time of the 50th anniversaries of the Apollo lunar landings; that would also, he noted, be when the president elected in 2016 to succeed President Obama would presumably be running for reelection. He wants that president “to make a commitment, within the next two decades, to begin American-led permanence on Mars,” he said. If that president doesn’t make such a commitment, “it would be a wonderful opportunity for that person trying to unseat the incumbent by saying, ‘I’m going to make that commitment early in my term.’”

The 83-year old Aldrin, who spoke seated at a table on stage and didn’t take questions after his talk, got a standing ovation from conference attendees. They also lined up in the lobby of George Washington University’s Listner Auditorium immediately after Aldrin’s talk to get copies of his latest book, Mission to Mars, signed by him. That left the auditorium relatively empty for the conference session going on at the same time as the book signing. The topic of that panel session: public engagement.

67 comments to Buzz Aldrin wants NASA to go to Mars, not grab an asteroid

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Any insights from your public policy panel, Jeff?

    • Jeff Foust

      No groundbreaking new space policy insights, but I may post on a brief summary of the panel once I have a chance to review it again (since I was moderating the panel, I didn’t take notes.)

      • DCSCA

        Sounds interesting. Sparking interest in many mediums and venues was one of von Braun’s pet peeves. He recognized the importance, given his earlier experiences, of vultivating the culture; of familiarizing the broader public w/the practicalities that fueled the imagination. He used everything from the pulp press to Disney. And he literally spent decades at it with events and timing falling in place and in his favor.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Aldrin: “Now it’s turned into a whole planetary defense exercise at the cost of extending our exploration capabilities.”

    Planetary defense is more important than exploration. But redirecting a non-hazardous, sub-7m NEO to lunar orbit has nothing to do with planetary defense, either.

    • Hiram

      Actually, directing a non-hazardous, sub-7m NEO to lunar orbit does has something to do with planetary defense. As does sending humans to plant a flag on it. It’s a profound distraction from the work that really needs to be done, which is detection of and strategy development for mitigating a large one. It’s worse than a distraction. It’s pretending to be addressing that threat, which it is certainly not.

      Of course, sending humans to Mars doesn’t help much either.

      • E.P. Grondine

        Hi Hiram –

        The problem is finding PHOs before they hit, and the current program will help to do that. Another problem in dealing with PHOs after they are found is their composition, which is currently known to be poorly understood, and the current program will answer those questions. But the most important thing is that the taxpayer will pay for it, which they currently will not do for any manned flight to Mars, no matter the architecture, nd no matter how cheap. That may change by 2020.

        In the meantime, the current program makes the best use possible use of the US’s existing technology base, IMO, and is well balanced within the current budget.

        If NASA’s budget is lowered, then there will have to be a different course of action adopted.

        Now what is this I hear about hexvalent chromium on Mars?

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi DBN -

      What part of the taxpayers do not want to pay for manned Mars flight do you people have trouble understanding? The current program will place the country in an excellent position should things change by 2020.

      • Dark Blue Nine

        “What part of the taxpayers do not want to pay for manned Mars flight do you people have trouble understanding?”

        I wrote: “Planetary defense is more important than exploration.”

        What part of that don’t you understand?

        “The current program will place the country in an excellent position should things change by 2020.”

        The “current program” is a mess headed towards cancellation after Obama leaves office. MPCV is 5,000lb. too heavy for landing. MPCV’s SM is 1,200lb. overweight, too. NASA doesn’t understand cracking in MPCV’s heat shield. Deliveries for the 2014 MPCV flight test are falling behind. SLS costs are unknown after 2017. After three years, NASA still doesn’t know if the SSMEs will meet SLS performance needs or if SLS can meet NASA’s human rating requirements. And NASA still hasn’t updated the old Constellation (Ares and Orion) contracts that SLS and MPCV are being built under. See:

        http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-276SP

  • Monty

    In my view, we’re probably fifty years out from a manned Mars mission. It’s not that we don’t have the technology to do it – we do – but we don’t have the funding or space-based infrastructure to do it. I supposed we could do another “flag and footprints” mission sooner than that, but to what point?

    We need to build a near-earth space-based infrastructure for human planetary exploration. This means L1/L2 “gas stations”, solar power arrays, raw material depots, and ship repair facilities. If we have to carry everything we need up from Earth’s gravity-well, the whole enterprise is just going to be too expensive.

    In short: we need to pump up space-based industry to both grow our national GDP (so we can afford to do expensive space missions) and to mature the various technologies we plan to use. The basic technologies are already there, but they need to be tested and matured to the point where costs can be driven down. We need to figure out how to gather raw materials and build things in space without needing to carry it all up from Earth. If we manage to do this, it will have the salutary effect of teaching us how to “live off the land” once we get to Mars.

    I love the idea of a manned Mars mission as much as any other space geek (and I pray that I live long enough to see it happen), but we can’t just skip over the necessary interim steps for getting there. It’s not enough just to be able to transport ourselves there and land; we did that with the moon, and it ended up as a waste because we weren’t able to stay there. The only reason to send human beings to Mars is for colonization purposes — and we’re not even close to ready to do that yet.

    We can reliably get into space from earth now, and costs are coming down. That’s a big deal, and it’s taken us a long time to get here. But costs need to come down still further, to the point that access to near-earth space is cheaper by a factor of ten. SpaceX and Orbital’s recent successes may pave the way for this to happen. The private sector is key to development of near-earth space, and this means the industrialization of near-earth space. Asteroid mining, the establishment of L1/L2 stations (or even colonies), and so on. We have to have this stuff to make deeper exploration possible. But NASA is not the organization to do it; it’s going to have to be American (and Russian, and Chinese, and European) private industry that does it.

    NASA has already broken the path for us and done the essential R&D to proceed. That’s NASA’s real job, and it’s what they should be focusing on. It’s now up to the private sector to take the next step and make space pay. Money is everything. Wealth means that more businesses and individuals work and live in space. It means the acceleration of new technology, job opportunities we can’t even imagine yet, and opportunities we can’t foresee. This has been true of every other age, and so it will be for this one.

    I keep saying it: give people a reason to go to space, and they’ll go there.

    • DCSCA

      “In my view, we’re probably fifty years out from a manned Mars mission.” muses monty.

      That’s generously optimistic, Monty. We’re already half a century on from the Apollo landings and those were an accelerated effort as part of a Cold War battle strategy. Without that competitive imperitive, Luna likely would have been spared human visitation and left to robotic probes in the 20th century.

      As long as the robots and rovers sent to Mars keep getting better, with SRMs in the mix and the costs remain much lower and managable compared to HSF there won’t be a manned Mars mission for at least 100 years, if then. Because there’s simply no reason to go; there is no rationale for HSF, at least in the United States, to justify the expense. Everything flows from that. And until it is made and sold to the public, American HSF planning will lurch from proposal to proposal.

      • Monty

        The recent Chelyabinsk asteroid should dispel any question about whether or not HSF is necessary. If we do not become a multi-planet species, we are doomed. A big rock is going to hit us at some point, so we’d better not have all our eggs in one basket when that happens.

        And proponents of pure robotic exploration miss one crucial aspect of the enterprise: what’s it all for, if not to make way for humans to follow after?

        Another reason we need HSF is that if we want to grow world GDP much beyond where it is now, we’re going to have to industrialize space. I’m not a “resources are running out” alarmist (I bet those “peak oil” doom-criers feel pretty silly these days), but some resources that are inherently rare on Earth are abundant in (say) asteroids. Platinum-group metals, for example. Exploiting space-based resources is an obvious step in advancing the world industrial base and thus increasing world GDP. More jobs, more goods and services, more wealth.

        HSF is the whole point of the space program. Robots are our scouts.

        • DCSCA

          “The recent Chelyabinsk asteroid should dispel any question about whether or not HSF is necessary.”

          Except it doesn’t.

          Those rocks have been pelting this planet for 4 billion years. and frankly, there are a few places on the planet, if hit, a lot of folks wouldn’t miss all that much. ;-)

          “HSF is the whole point of the space program.”

          Is it?

          You’d get a strong argument on cost-efectiveness and ROI from the scientific community on that one. JW, JFK’s own science adisor, opposed it and preferred robots over people. You’re advocating a self-evident axiom that has yet to be justified with an adequate rationale in this century. In rhe Cold War, it was justified as a response to the Soviet HSF challenge. What was Kennedy’s line– ‘whatever mankind undertakes, free men must fully share.’ Etc., etc. That rationale doesn’t work in the 21st centurey. Unless going to sleep by the light of a Red Chinese moon base bothers you. That might have bugged Americans in the 1960s but it might be met with national indifference in th 2020s.

        • E.P. Grondine

          HI Monty –

          If there is one thing that shows how disturbed manned flight to Mars enthusiasts are, it is their claim that ELEs justify manned flight to Mars.

          First off, ELE class impactors can be handled with current technologies. Given that, what they propose is giving up on 7,000,000,000 people on Earth for a handful on Mars.

          Second, they intentionally ignore the smaller impacts, for example the class of nation killers, in their arguments, and these are far more frequent than ELEs.

          Third, Mars is not like the Earth, and manned presence there will depend on Earth based resources for quite a while.

          That entire chain of specious logic is diagnostic.

          Please remember that I am not opposed to manned flight to Mars, it is simply that I think that the only way it will be accomplished is by dealing with the impact hazard first, which is a task which needs to be done rather immediately regardless of anything else.

  • Guest

    We can reliably get into space from earth now, and costs are coming down.

    That’s not true, prices have been going up for some time now. I’m not sure what true costs are though, but things are not going to start improving until SpaceX becomes operational.

    • Coastal Ron

      Guest said:

      …but things are not going to start improving until SpaceX becomes operational.

      Operational? They have already successfully completed two CRS missions – you don’t call that operational?

      That’s not true, prices have been going up for some time now.

      Over the past couple of decades the cost to access space have been coming down. The non-reusable Falcon 9, as well as the upcoming non-reusable Falcon Heavy, will just accelerate that trend.

      If SpaceX is able to perfect reusability, then costs will fall much, much further.

      But the trend is clear – costs have been falling over time.

      • E.P. Grondine

        I am simply pleased that US satellite manufacturers will have available launch costs that will leave them competitive with those manufacturers using Chinese launchers.

        I believe that going to a medium-heavy and re-usability are the next steps for everyone, and not just SpaceX.

      • Monty

        But the trend is clear – costs have been falling over time.

        Booster technology has gained a lot from the precision manufacturing revolution of the 90′s and 2000′s. CNC, CAD/CAM, and advanced materials handling (stir friction welding, for example) have made rocket engines, tanks, and other structures far more reliable. And electronics have plummeted in both price and size, which has driven down not only the cost of avionics, but also of all the related support systems.

        In short, lifters are experiencing the same cycle that automobiles and aircraft and computers did before them. Rocket technology is advancing more slowly because the launch volume is still low, but if companies like SpaceX and Orbital can build a business that does not depend on government contracts, it may speed up. When your only (or only major) customer is the US government, you feast or famine depending on the winds of political favor. A robust manifest of private-sector contracts ensures that corporate rewards are tied to performance, not political favor.

        The only way to make sure that lifters continue on this path is to make sure that there is a vibrant marketplace for lifters…and there’s the rub. It’s the classic “chicken and egg” problem. If launch costs remain too high, the market will remain too small and immature to drive much innovation. That’s why SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy lifter will be an interesting test: can Elon Musk deliver on his promise to drive down costs to $1000/lb to orbit? And if so, will private-sector companies take notice?

        • Coastal Ron

          Monty said:

          …but if companies like SpaceX and Orbital can build a business that does not depend on government contracts, it may speed up.

          As long as the government is buying commercial services, then they are no different than any other customer. And if anything, if you eliminate commercial launch providers from competition, you ensure that the government will only have high-cost launch options. As a taxpayer, I don’t think that makes sense.

          When your only (or only major) customer is the US government, you feast or famine depending on the winds of political favor.

          Been there, done that. But that is not the case with ULA.

          Boeing and Lockheed Martin, in my opinion, made a calculated business decision to ignore the commercial market and focus on being an almost exclusively U.S. Government launch provider. By doing that, they could charge far higher prices, since the government would not have any commercial launch contracts to use for comparison.

          That’s why SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy lifter will be an interesting test: can Elon Musk deliver on his promise to drive down costs to $1000/lb to orbit? And if so, will private-sector companies take notice?

          Agreed. But because the cycle time for new business ventures is pretty long in the satellite marketplace, it will take years before the Falcon Heavy makes a big change, and by that time reusability may be coming online, which will initiate another cycle. Once costs start falling, and people can see that launch costs truly are variable and declining, then the new business cycle may speed up. Going to be interesting.

          • Fred Willett

            I can’t remember where but I did hear Gwynne Shotwell say that SpaceX all ready had evidence that falling prices means a bigger launch market. Presumably some of the business they’ve picked up just would not have happened if the higher cost launchers were the only option.

        • common sense

          “can Elon Musk deliver on his promise to drive down costs to $1000/lb to orbit?”

          This is a very good question. I won’t even question the $1000 just that he can maintain his current cost whatever they may be. This is a question that people should ask rather than whether he can send a crew to space. That is a question that may make or break space exploration. And not only Elon but the whole commercial industry. For example Boeing had expressed doubts on the viability of the market even though they participate in the commercial effort. But what makes it viable to Boeing is not necessarily the same for SpaceX. There are a lot of factors to consider. But as SpaceX grows is it possible they will become just another Boeing of sorts? That they will suffer the same ailments? How do you keep the management philosophy and methods in checks with a multi-thousand people company?

          “And if so, will private-sector companies take notice?”

          Well at the very least private investor did take notice. Those who already invested in SpaceX and those knocking at the door. Usually people don’t usually invest millions of dollars in a company without due diligence, not when you talk millions or more and that regardless of the hype and the enthusiasm of space cadets. Business is business. Elon is foremost a businessman. I wish people would not forget that but it seems simpler for a lot of people to grasp lines with simple words, e.g. retirement on Mars.

          • Fred Willett

            Boeing said they need 2 flights a year to make money out of CST-100. Commercial Crew to ISS would give them that, and Bigelow would be pure profit (if that actually happens).
            SpaceX and Orbital currently have their two flights a year, so they’re making money.
            But commercial spaceflight beyond ISS is still an unknown.
            Once commercial crew and cargo get going other opportunities, Like Bigelow, may open up.
            One thing is certain. If there is no commercial crew to ISS then Bigelow will never fly.
            It’s worth the investment just to find out of there is a commercial future for human spaceflight.

      • Guest

        If you look at CRS contracts prices have indeed been rising. Soyuz costs certainly are rising.

        By operational I mean commercial launches with falling prices and Dragon flights which then can be compared to other specifically priced alternatives generally fixed by contract. That is certainly coming, but it certainly isn’t there yet.

        • Coastal Ron

          Guest said:

          If you look at CRS contracts prices have indeed been rising. Soyuz costs certainly are rising.

          You are mistaken. There has only been one round of CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) awards, so there is only one data point. And CRS would compete with the Progress, not the Soyuz.

          Apparently you are confusing crew with cargo. However, since Russia has a monopoly on the crew transportation market, I don’t see that as an indication of rising launch costs. I’m surprised Russia didn’t raise their prices faster.

          By operational I mean commercial launches with falling prices and Dragon flights which then can be compared to other specifically priced alternatives generally fixed by contract.

          In other words, you have a definition of “operational” that is nowhere close to being what everyone else considers “operational”. For instance, the dictionary definition of “operational” is “in or ready for use“. Price and competition are not considerations.

          • Guest

            The shuttle program was not a data point?

            When SpaceX starts launching geosats and Dragon flights to the ISS regularly, we will have an operational commercial launch vehicle system. CRS flights are developmental and extremely expensive. ULA is heavily subsidized as well. On a per pound basis the starting point is Orbital small rocket prices, since they are the only pure commercial company out there right now besides SpaceX. We expect that prices will drop in the future but that’s not what we are seeing right now.

            • Coastal Ron

              Guest said:

              The shuttle program was not a data point?

              The Shuttle was not commercial. You could either assign a price of “Free” or $1.5B, depending on which type of accounting NASA wanted to use.

              CRS flights are developmental and extremely expensive.

              You continue to make up your own definitions. SpaceX successfully completed the COTS program, which was for developing and verifying their system. Then they flew to flights without any NASA involvement.

              As to cost, NASA would tell you that CRS is worth the money being paid. What existing alternatives are there that would be less, but delivery the same value?

              ULA is heavily subsidized as well.

              Yes, ULA receives $1B/year in direct subsidies, but that is not the same as the other descriptors you were using (i.e. developmental and extremely expensive).

              We expect that prices will drop in the future but that’s not what we are seeing right now.

              “We” are already seeing lower prices. If you disagree, then provide some data so we can compare.

              • Guest

                I agree we’re ‘seeing’ lower prices, I posit they’re just not here yet. We have a full cost accounting for Apollo and STS, prices were falling for a while, now they are rising again. It’s already well known that STS was a better deal than Constellation. Better even than CRS, but CRS is only a temporary glitch as it directly incorporates the cost of development, as well it should.

              • Coastal Ron

                Guest said:

                I agree we’re ‘seeing’ lower prices, I posit they’re just not here yet.

                Where is “here”?

                We have a full cost accounting for Apollo and STS, prices were falling for a while, now they are rising again.

                Maybe the problem here is that you are measuring apples, mangoes and oranges, and I’m measuring just apples.

                STS did in fact “launch” non-STS payloads, but Apollo was dedicated to just it’s own hardware – I don’t consider that comparable.

                Better even than CRS…

                CRS is primarily delivering pressurized cargo – you can only compare that to the Shuttle when it was carrying the MPLM. And because the Shuttle was multi-purpose, it’s a little hard to isolate just the pressurized cargo costs.

                …but CRS is only a temporary glitch as it directly incorporates the cost of development, as well it should.

                Then apparently it’s not a “glitch”. And in any case, since there has only been one CRS contract series, there is no way to make a comparison – it is what it is. And for the CRS contract, it is costing NASA $3.5B for 40mt of pressurized cargo. That works out to $87,500/kg. I expect that will fall on the next series, especially if NASA allows SpaceX to reuse their existing fleet of Dragon spacecraft.

                If the Shuttle had done just a cargo run to the ISS, and we used the $1.2B historic average cost that doesn’t include DDT&E, then that would have worked out to $133,333/kg if the Shuttle delivered 9mt in the MPLM.

                That’s my math, let’s see yours.

              • Guest

                My math works like this, we would not have the ISS without the shuttle, and we would not have had the shuttle without Apollo. I look forward to a future revolution in commercial space flight, but it isn’t here yet. The EELV and Soyuz era have brought us continuity, at increasing prices, although the EELVs are a darn sight cheaper than the Titan IV was.

                Just as soon as the commercial space flight era produces a revolution and some competition I’ll get back to you with some actual numbers. But right now for the time being I’ve been seeing SpaceX advertised prices increase, rather than decrease, within individual product lines.

                I chalk it up to development, which will be ongoing for a while now.

              • Coastal Ron

                Guest said:

                But right now for the time being I’ve been seeing SpaceX advertised prices increase, rather than decrease, within individual product lines.

                The SpaceX Falcon 9 is advertised today for $54M, but for a long time previously it used to be priced at $59.5M.

                You don’t know what you are talking about.

  • common sense

    I may not agree with all that Buzz is saying as much as I don’t with what Elon is saying or even doing. BUT at the very least both make sense and both commit to doing the work on their own time and dime. Unlike the other crowd bent on old stuff, old thinking, old everything.

    And the fact that Buzz still works on any of that shows that vision, enthusiasm and smarts know no age.

    The world is better because of Buzz being part of it.

    Go Buzz!

  • DougSpace

    The problem with Buzz’ concepts is that he thinks that presidential leadership is a substitute for a financially-sustainable strategy.

    So there are two possible lessons that we could learn from the Apollo program. Take your pick:
    1) If a president sets a bold goal, the country will follow and great accomplishments in space will result, or
    2) If you have a space program that costs too much, it will be shut down and what you’ll have left are past glories.

    Buzz’ plan has too great a risk that it cannot be sustained. Based upon past experience there will likely be cost overruns and delays. A 30+ year program requiring a sustained large portion of NASA’s budget has too great a risk of cancellation.

    Rather the key to sustainability is to reduce the costs sufficiently such that a commercial market begins to support the national space program. Likely full reusability would do this provided that a sufficiently large national and tourist maker results.

    But recognize that the tipping point would be reached even with just partial reusability of the Falcon Heavy (lateral boosters). 64% of engines retrieved. Cost drops from $125 million to about $63 million. If each passenger requires 300 kg, a Falcon Heavy could transport about 166 at a time. This comes to about $380,000 per launch ticket. Given Bigelow fees and return fees, say $500,000 total. There could be a sizeable market.

    For a Mars mission, getting low-cost propellant from a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure based upon lunar ice could lower the cost for BEO transport such that circum-lunar, lunar surface, and Mars system becomes relatively affordable to a large market.

    • Monty

      Consider how much of what you’re saying depends on near-earth infrastructure, though. We’re talking about taking the family to Florida before any roads or gas stations or rest-stops have been built. Mars may be the ultimate goal, but road-building should be our very first objective. (Or track-laying, if you prefer the railroad analogy.) In a perfect world, NASA would have been the agent to bring this road-building about, much as the government drove the creation of the US Interstate highway system or the transcontinental railroad. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and the NASA we have is not the NASA we need to do such a thing.

      We need space-based sources of three things: water (for breathable air, fuel, and maybe radiation shielding); docking/repair/fueling facilities; and construction materials. And these things have to be extracted in space, not brought up from Earth. It will never made sense to bring all this crap up out of Earth’s gravity well when it can be gathered in space. Save the cargo room in the rockets for stuff we can’t get in space: people, food, finished goods, and so on.

      I’m not even all that interested in what NASA does for the next decade or so, because it’s unlikely they’re going to do much (at least in terms of manned missions) that moves the ball downfield. NASA’s purpose now (unstated but no less firmly understood) is to provide aerospace jobs at their various field centers, and act as a conduit for government welfare contracts to the aerospace industry.

      NASA doesn’t have the funding or political will behind them to drive space exploration. They’ll contribute to it, but either private industry will have to drive it or it won’t happen. We can’t wait on NASA because NASA isn’t going to be able to step up, even if they wanted to. I’m not even sure what NASA’s employees do all day at places like Stennis, Goddard, Johnson, and Huntsville. NASA is probably overstaffed by 30% or better, given the workload they’re carrying right now. And in an era of lean budgets, that kind of overstaffing is hard to justify — especially in light of the miserable performance of NASA on projects like JWST.

      I really think we’d be better off if NASA reverted back to its NACA roots and became a pure R&D center again. NASA was founded to bring Apollo to fruition, and if the last forty years have shown us anything, it’s that NASA has had a really hard time defining themselves or their role in a post-Apollo world. It’s a minor miracle that they’ve survived as long as they have, and it’s mainly a testament to the ossification of all government programs: once founded, they are incredibly hard to abolish.

      • NASA was founded to bring Apollo to fruition, and if the last forty years have shown us anything, it’s that NASA has had a really hard time defining themselves or their role in a post-Apollo world.

        Not true. NASA was founded (in 1958) to extend the NACA to space. Apollo came along a couple years later, in the Kennedy administration, which was when things got screwed up.

        • Monty

          Eh, I’m not sure that’s true. Let’s say that NASA was created to get men to the moon — they didn’t call it “Apollo” yet, but that was clearly on the minds of the men involved in creating NASA (Dryden, Bundy, and the rest). Mercury (already in planning in 1959) was a stepping stone to Gemini, was was a stepping stone to Apollo. The objective was always going to the moon. It just wasn’t “official” until Kennedy’s famous speech in 1961.

          Eisenhower wasn’t much of a fan of the “space race” with the Russians, but he understood that it was going to happen whether he liked it or not, and that the ultimate objective was the moon. NASA was his way of trying to put the moon program into civilian rather than military hands. With only partial success, since the lifters were all developed under military aegis (Vanguard by the Navy, the Juno/Jupiter/Saturn lifters by the Army’s ABMA in Huntsville before it became a ward of NASA).

          Regardless of what Eisenhower intended for NASA, it was very quickly subsumed under the moonshot — before NASA had even coalesced as an agency, in fact. NASA was never about anything other than the moonshot, almost from the very first.

          • E.P. Grondine

            Err, Monty, I am pretty certain that all of the “facts” in your last post are in error.

          • Let’s say that NASA was created to get men to the moon

            Why would we say something that is not historically accurate?

            Sorry, but go read some actual history. Pretty much everything you wrote following is nonsense. Eisenhower had no plans whatsoever to send men to the moon. He was just trying to respond to the unexpected public surprise about Sputnik. The moon, and Apollo happened only because Kennedy was embarrassed by the Bay of Pigs, and needed to show that he was tough in the Cold War.

            If we could have beaten the Soviets to building a space station, we would have done that instead. But von Braun said that the Moon was the gladiatorial battleground, so in 1961, it became the moon.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi Rand –

              Pretty accurate, but the CIA presented their estimate to Kennedy, and the only place where the US had a chance to beat the Soviets was in a manned Moon mission.

              What is interesting is how the Soviet’s Heavy Interplanetary Spacecraft (Toejoli MeshPlanety Korabl, pardon my spelling), their real core program, was not included in that CIA estimate.

              Its strange to consider, but it appears that the “Moon Race” was partly due to a faulty US intelligence estimate.

          • DCSCA

            “Eh, I’m not sure that’s true.”

            It is. The STG had lunar plans but nothign definitive as Apollo and was a small group inside NASA. Only after JFK greenlighted Apollo that the STG’s lunar planning were brought to the forefront and debate began over which mode to employ to get there- the most practical for the time schedule and engineering parameters at hand being LOR. Thank you, JCH.

        • DCSCA

          in the Kennedy administration, which was when things got screwed up…

          Except they didn’t.

          As the landslide election of LBJ in ’64, (who carried on JFK’s space initiatives) and the overwhelming rejection of Goldwater, his extreme right wing philosophy, including opposition to Apollo as reference in his notoriously infamous Cow Palace acceptance speech, showed. ‘Things’ space related went wrong with Nixon. and really, really, really wrong with Reagan, as history has shown.

          • Monty

            Space policy was never really on the rails. No US President has ever given a darn about space exploration, and that includes Kennedy. Kennedy and LBJ used the Apollo program as a stick to beat the Russians with — that was the extent of its utility to them. Nixon simply had bigger fish to fry, and awarded NASA STS and Viking as consolation prizes for the cancellation of Apollo. Carter let Skylab wither and die (which was an unconscionable waste of a valuable space asset).

            Reagan at least signed the Commercial Space Launch Act in 1984, opening the door to private-sector competition and innovation in the lifter space.

            We can thank William Jefferson Clinton for warping the original US space station project into an international aerospace welfare program which, besides grotesquely inflating the cost, crippled it in deference to the Russians (the orbit is inclined to make it easier for the Russians to reach, but renders it nearly useless as a waystation for further exploration). We can thank George W. Bush for mandating that NASA conduct the Constellation project without providing for sufficient funding, and we can thank Barack Obama for killing it half-finished and replacing it with yet another project (the asteroid mission) that is also insufficiently funded and will be canceled half-finished.

            Let’s face it: American Presidents have never much liked the space program except where it helps in a PR sense. The best we can hope from them is benign indifference rather than outright opposition. Both political parties have miserable records regarding space exploration.

            • pathfinder-01

              “Carter let Skylab wither and die (which was an unconscionable waste of a valuable space asset).”

              Not quite. The problem with Skylab was that it was only built to hold three, three person crews for about 3 months each. It was not built with the idea of it being resupplied or used beyond those crews. The original idea was to build two Skylab’s and launch Skylab A then after it was used up Skylab B (which currently y is sawed in half and on display at the Smithsonian).

              The problem with Apollo was that it left nothing to build upon. Saturn I had no other uses and the military went on to Titan III. The only Apollo Capsule left at the end of Skylab was the one dedicated to rescue, which meant if you launched it there would be no way to rescue the crew should their capsule go bad. Apollo/Soyuz consumed the only Apollo capsule left that could do a Skylab mission. A disposable capsule tied to rockets that had no other purposes is not a stable foundation to build anything upon.

              There was only about 21 days worth of supply left on Skylab and that was only because the three previous crews used less. Skylab was left in a high orbit. They expected Skylab to not need rebooting till the early 80ies but the calculations were wrong and Skylab came down a lot faster than expected due to solar activity. There were some plans to try and use an unmanned Aegina upper stage to dock and boost Skylab but it fell too fast for that plan to unfold. There were also plans to use the shuttle to boost but the shuttle was running late(Shuttle should have be ready in 1979).

            • DCSCA

              Space policy was never really on the rails. No US President has ever given a darn about space exploration’

              not really. Space policy dos not automatically equate to ‘exploration.’ However, space research, at least for manned flight, was coucnhed in the military the high altitude aircraft research underway along with high altitude scientific research by instrumented sounding rockets, balloons and such. There simply wasn’t much of this going on outside government activities given the costs and technologies available.

              “Reagan at least signed the Commercial Space Launch Act in 1984″.. ehich. as noted earlier, is where thigs really, really, really started to go wrong.

            • DCSCA

              We can thank William Jefferson Clinton for warping the original US space station project into an international aerospace welfare program

              Inaccurte. THat’s Reagan’s baby, firstp publicaly proposed in one of his folksy STOTU speeches nearly three decadesd ago. It was always an ionternational WPA project and only worsened to include Russian participation as a last chapter of COld War clean up policies.

      • Hiram

        “We’re talking about taking the family to Florida before any roads or gas stations or rest-stops have been built. Mars may be the ultimate goal, but road-building should be our very first objective.”

        Perhaps an inappropriate metaphor. The national goal isn’t moving families to Mars, it’s putting a human on Mars. Maybe a fairly lonely human. In fact, as has been pointed out, formal Administration policy is putting a human in orbit around Mars, and Congress sees us keeping permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit. But our national goals don’t go beyond that. To the extent we wildly extrapolate what our established goals are, it just makes us look silly. For what we’ve formally (as a nation) decided we want to do, we sure don’t need any roads, gas stations, or rest-stops to get to Mars.

        There are those whose ambition is colonization and settlement of the Red Planet. Please keep those dreams under your own pillow, and call them your own goals, not that of the nation. They’re pretty nifty goals, but they aren’t national goals.

        • Monty

          If colonization of Mars is not the goal, why go there? What possible reason is there to send humans to Mars if it is not to stay there and establish a human presence there? That’s a hell of a lot of money (money we don’t have, by the way) to spend on a sight-seeing trip.

          • DCSCA

            “If colonization of Mars is not the goal, why go there?” asks monty.

            Exactly. Especially as the robots are giving us a good jist of what’s there and a SRM would make the scientists giddy. And if you’re going to ‘colonize’ anything in space, the next logical place in this era given the state of the technology, the economics and politics involved is Luna, not Mars. At the rate the U.S. is going– whixh is in circles, no place, fast, you’ll see a Chinese on the moon before you’ll ever see an American at Mars.

            • BRC

              “And if you’re going to ‘colonize’ anything in space, the next logical place in this era given the state of the technology, the economics and politics involved is Luna”

              You’re on the mark, there! In fact, actually, if one wants to establish a ‘multi-planet species’, to avoid the remake of “Dino-Smackdown” but with human actors, then the Moon (despite it not being a ‘planet’) is just as good a life boat as Mars. Moreso, in that some last minute pre-impact supplies & people can more easily be transferred. Even some post-impact interactions might be done and done quickly (& no doubt desparately) before any remaining earth-launch capability expires.

              With Mars, the now-permamently stranded “martians” could only watch their at best their home-world’s modern civilization (at worst, entire species) die after a 20-min delay. Although, on the plus side, they could then openly say “Screw the ‘maintain a sterile pristine planet for sciense & environmental goodness’ mantra,” and do whatever it takes to survive.

              • BRC

                “sciense”
                Oops, that’s “science”. . . my bio-spell-checker (brain) didn’t catch this (hey, it’s Friday afternoon)

              • Coastal Ron

                BRC said:

                In fact, actually, if one wants to establish a ‘multi-planet species’, to avoid the remake of “Dino-Smackdown” but with human actors, then the Moon (despite it not being a ‘planet’) is just as good a life boat as Mars.

                Well, except it has half the gravity, no atmosphere at all, and it’s so close to Earth that a “Dino-Smackdown” here on Earth could affect everyone that’s on the Moon.

                If the goal is to be multi-planetary, then going far away from Earth is the better choice. And that would be Mars.

        • Coastal Ron

          Hiram said:

          The national goal isn’t moving families to Mars, it’s putting a human on Mars.

          While settlement is not an explicit goal, I agree with Monty that it’s the only worthwhile goal.

          But I would doubt that once an explicit goal for NASA to go to Mars is finally agreed upon, that it won’t be for Apollo style “flags & footprints” trips.

          • Hiram

            You two agree that settlement is the only worthwhile goal. That’s nice. Let me know when national leadership agrees with that.

            As to being the only worthwhile goal for human space flight, that may well be correct. But if our national leadership can’t make that explicit, then maybe their subtext is that human spaceflight isn’t important.

            • common sense

              “maybe their subtext is that human spaceflight isn’t important”

              Precisely.

              And also why I for one advocate that this activity should eventually entirely move to the private sector so to not be at the mercy of political favors.

              If there is a market then HSF will flourish.

              If not we can still go watch Star Trek and I think the last movie of which is real great.

            • Ferris Valyn

              Hiram – we’ve had at least 2 presidential statements (one from Bush and one from Obama) that implicitly (although I grant not explicitly) endorsed settlement. And you’ve had multiple committees, including multiple presidential committees, state that this should be the goal.

              I think Jeff Greason is right – we do have national agreement about the goal, although it should be more explicit.

              • common sense

                Ferris, it does not matter (much) what individuals say outside of formal functions. For those things to happen they MUST become policy. It will most likely not happen under this WH and Congress if nothing else because of sequestration. Try and go sell that to the public. However, if the economic situation finally turns out better and the various commercial ventures finally come to fruition… Then I believe someone will be happy to take credit for it, especially in Congress. And then it might be the time to make it policy.

                We shall see.

              • Hiram

                Two presidential statements that implicity endorse settlement? Really? Which would those be? No, we have no national agreement on the purpose of human space flight, except that it makes us look cool, and we can use it to impress other nations.

                People keep blathering how “presidential leadership” is needed here to ensure the future of human spaceflight. Well, even if there were implicit presidential statements about the importance for settlement, which I argue is a faulty interpretation of stated policy, no one in Congress has built on those implicit statements. This is a stool you’d have, standing on one implicit leg.

                You’re just imagining things, and imagination doesn’t make policy.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi DS –

      You have to keep in mind that Dr. Aldrin proposed a re-usable medium heavy years ago, and “re-usable” Earth-Mars transfer systems. IMO, while his engineering was so far advanced that it looked like magic to many, but my guess is that those concepts will be required one way or another to make manned flight to Mars achievable.

      I believe Dr. Aldrin long ago earned the right to enjoy life as he sees fit.

  • JimNobles

    For a Mars mission, getting low-cost propellant from a cis-lunar transportation infrastructure based upon lunar ice could lower the cost for BEO transport such that circum-lunar, lunar surface, and Mars system becomes relatively affordable to a large market.

    The trouble with lunar ice and all the other supposed resources to come from the moon is that they are science fiction. No one’s exported a thing of value off the moon yet. And we don’t have any idea how many years it might take to get such operations up and running.

    Yet some people want the Mars planners to do what? Hold up and wait until they develop a lunar resources infrastruture to deliver goods? That’s probably not going to happen. If you think exploring the solar system requires lunar resources up front then you need to get on that task and start developing them. Not telling other people that they should wait for you. Or even give up their dreams because you think they can’t do it without you.

  • DCSCA

    “Aldrin went into considerable technical detail about his concepts of Mars exploration, including the “cycler” spacecraft concept he has refined over the years.”

    Interesting. Had a chat w/Buzz at the premiere of the HBO series, ‘From The Earth To The Moon’ in LA some years back and the ‘cycler’ was broached. He said there were ‘problems’ with it. A good idea, but then the devil is in the details, eh Buzz.

    Buzz is all about Buzz in recent years, as witnessed by the lines to get the 83 year old American hero’s signature. Interest appears more in what he signs than what he says these days– particularly in the wake of Armsttong’s passing. And as JFK once noted, ‘we are all mortal.’ Such is the nature of America’s celebrity culture. Aldrin has made no secret that book writing isn’t his forte. He did damage his credibility for a time with his forays into Dancing w/t Stars’ emceeing Canadian wrestling matches and guest spots on 30 Rock and David Letterman. Still, given his expdrience, his input merits consideration, just as that from from Lovell, Cernan, the late Armstrong, Kraft, Kranz, Lunney et al. are worth noting as well.

  • Guest

    What NASA has successfully demonstrated is that it has become too bureaucratic, bloated and corrupt to lead any kind of a major technology development effort. We have seen this repeatedly in manned space with ISS, which took far too long and cost far more than should have been necessary and which they forgot to plan for utilization, with Shuttle, which despite the fact it was demanding modifications to its design and how it was operated, NASA neglected right to the very end-Linda Hamm came into a lot of criticism because when told that Columbia might be irreparably damaged, she responded ‘why bother to do anything’ but wasnt that exactly the response of the NASA management before and after Columbia-they knew full well they had a problem and yet they chose to not try to do anything about it; NASA demonstrated this again with Orion which is a poor design solution for its missions and with the Ares rockets. NASA demonstrated with Constellation that it could not organize, ir could not formulate a proper set of requirements. And more than anything else, NASA has utterly failed to design anything in decades. NASA has successfully put in place a bunch of managers who have never demonstrated any ability to accomplish anything.

    Besides all of this, if you want to develop a transit system like Buzz proposes, that means a long term commitment to economy which is the exact opposite of what NASA has become. But NASA was never that-you did not see NASA develop any airlines 75 years ago. They played an important role in technological improvements for aerodynamics, but when it came to commercial development that was placed firmly into the hands of industry.

    NASA should do no more than work at improving technology and providing some seed funding o industry. The US Federal government should not be called uon to provide the financing for Buzz’s Mars transit system.

  • josh

    aldrin is right of course. the asteroid mission is boring and a distracting and sls needs to die.

  • So many people with grand visions for NASA, yet none of them say how to pay for it.

    Congress isn’t going to pay for it. Period. This isn’t 1961. The Commies aren’t circling overhead. We’re not in a fight for the hearts and minds of the Third World.

    NASA was founded in 1958 to be an aerospace R&D agency, not Starfleet. The idea was to develop and transfer that technology to other government agencies (i.e. DOD) and the private sector.

    Apollo was not the model. Apollo was the exception.

    NASA does not equal space exploration. NASA is a government agency which dabbles in space exploration. If you think the only way to get to the Moon or Mars or build Starfleet is to rely on Congress, you have a very long wait.

    The only solution is to find an economic imperative that drives entrepreneurs to explore space. NASA can help do that, which was its original purpose. But it won’t be NASA establishing permanent colonies or mining or whatever. It wasn’t intended to be, nor will it be for the foreseeable future.

    The recent unfunded Space Act Agreement between NASA and Bigelow Aerospace might be the first step in the private sector taking humanity beyond Low Earth Orbit. It’s a step in the right direction. If we want exploration, we have to divorce space from Congress.

  • I didn’t hang around for Buzz’s talk. I left after the Tuesday morning sessions. They were depressing enough, I had other things to do and nobody was paying me to stay there — or even paying my way for the Tuesday lunch with Vint Cerf.

    What was so depressing about Tuesday’s presentations? The one on health in space reported many health problems from living in space — even for a short as time as six months on ISS. We don’t — as a species yet — seem to be really addressing those problems. We don’t know what will happen with humans — if they survive the trip — spending time on Mars.

    We also don’t have low cost, routine access to even LEO at this point. Without that, it seems more than a little premature to talk about colonies anywhere in space. The failure of the space shuttle to do that postponed quite a few visionary ideas, including colonies on the Moon or those like O’Neill proposed back in the 1970s. O’Neill’s idea actually had a potential benefit for humans on Earth — potentially low cost space based solar power. A “frontier” millions of miles away holds little interest for most — if not practically all — humans.

    Aerospace has a number of problems, especially regarding workforce issues. Aerospace is not alone among tech fields in that regard. Let me point to a public policy paper I wrote some years ago that hasn’t gotten much positive attention. I’ve saved it on my blog as Aerospace Workforce Issues.

    I’m also not really surprised at the lack of interest in public outreach. That also requires people skills that too many geeks don’t have. Let me point to another blog posting of mine — A Tale of Two Space Days

    • amightywind

      Interesting post, but doesn’t come close to explaining the lack of women in technology development in general. Outreach is not the answer. This is systemic. I work on a team of 30 engineers, exactly one of whom is female (and she is very good). There are plenty of them in marketing, quality control, clinical, and even a few in testing. But the real bucks are made in engineering. I have no answers. The work environment is highly regulated. Men have been trained to be on their best behavior. There is no ‘slap and tickle’ in the office like there was in decades past. It might be that the work life balance issues of ‘crunch time’ really discourages them.

      As for NASA public outreach. What is happening in the agency to inspire anyone?

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