Congress, Lobbying, NASA

NASA, members of Congress make case for Europa mission

As NASA released a call for proposals for instruments that could fly on a future robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, some key members of Congress expressed support Tuesday for flying such a mission sooner rather than later.

“This is a wonderful crowd,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, at the beginning of an event titled “The Lure of Europa” organized by The Planetary Society that drew a standing room only crowd to the committee’s hearing room on Capitol Hill. (Many in attendance were interns, perhaps attracted by one of the events speakers, Bill Nye.) “I just wish others could see the interest that you all manifest by being here.”

Whether it was indeed Europa that lured the audience, or just a chance to take a selfie with Nye, the audience heard a case for exploring the icy Jovian moon from members of Congress and NASA representatives, one based primarily on the potential of Europa to host life. “We’re confident that Europa is the next logical place to go” after Mars in the search for life in the solar system, said NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan, one of the event’s speakers.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), arguably the biggest supporter for Europa exploration in Congress, was even more confident than Stofan that Europa harbored life. In comments during the event, he noted that NASA had held a press event the day before talking about searching for signs of life on exoplanets outside our solar system. “We don’t need to wait to go find life in another solar system. It’s right here in our own backyard,” he said. “The oceans of Europa will literally be seething with life. It’s just irrefutable. It’s so logical, it’s so self evident.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose district includes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), also expressed interest in sending a mission to Europa, even if he didn’t share Culberson’s certitude about life there. “Now, after years of struggle against shortsighted budget cuts by the administration that affect not only Europa, but a host of other NASA missions as well, it looks as if the dream is becoming a reality,” he said of a Europa mission. “Chairman [Frank] Wolf and Ranking Member [Chaka] Fattah played key roles in fighting the administration on Europa and they deserve all of our gratitude.” That’s a reference to the leadership of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, where Culberson and Schiff also serve.

Schiff and others were pleased by NASA’s announcement earlier in the day that it was releasing an announcement of opportunity (AO) for instruments that could fly on a future Europa mission. NASA has reserved $25 million that will go for initial “Phase A” studies of up to 20 instrument concepts that the agency will select by next April.

What isn’t clear, though, is what mission those instruments might eventually hitch a ride on. NASA has been studying concepts for a Europa orbiter mission as well as a “Clipper” that would perform multiple flybys of Europa, but has made no decision yet on what concept to pursue, or when it would fly. The cost of either of those missions would be in the ballpark of $2 billion.

Earlier this year, though, NASA issued a request for information about concepts for Europa missions that would cost no more than $1 billion. After Tuesday’s event, NASA associate administrator for science John Grunsfeld, who attended the event but was not a panelist, said a number of submissions have been forwarded to the Aerospace Corporation to perform an independent cost and technical assessment to see if any could, in fact, be done for the stated price. NASA is also looking at the science that the billion-dollar mission concepts claim to do, and compare those capabilities with what the Clipper mission and other concepts can do.

Grunsfeld outlined a hypothetical scenario where a billion-dollar mission could achieve only one major scientific objective while a Clipper-like mission could do four, albeit at about twice the price. “But if you look in your wallet and you only have a billion dollars, then you have to ask, ‘Can I afford to wait or should I go now?’” he said.

Members of Congress like Culberson and Schiff, though, want to ensure that NASA has enough to do a flagship-class Europa mission. “We included language in this [appropriations] bill, and I’m proud to have been one of the drivers of that, to ensure that we have the money for the Europa flagship mission,” Culberson said, adding he also inserted the report language specifying that the Space Launch System (SLS) be the baseline launch vehicle for it.

Nye, in his role as as CEO of The Planetary Society, also made a pitch to have NASA’s planetary science program funded at $1.5 billion per year, higher than the administration’s request. “What keep the the United States economically in the game, in my view, is innovation. So if you want to have innovation and keep the United States competitive, we need, or we can very easily, invest in space,” he said. “And right now, the most bang for your buck—the most effective space dollar—is planetary science.”

47 comments to NASA, members of Congress make case for Europa mission

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Culberson said, adding he also inserted the report language specifying that the Space Launch System (SLS) be the baseline launch vehicle for it [Europa mission].”

    Ah, I always wondered why a Texas Senator was so interested in a multi-billion dollar California/Colorado-built and -operated space probe to Europa. So much for scientific curiosity about Europa. Who cares if the mission ever flies as long as Culberson can use it to appear like he’s justifying an SLS mission to his constituents.

    • Hiram

      Actually, Culberson is a real astronomy geek. He’s an amateur astronomer, and has been wildly supportive of many space science missions that have absolutely nothing to do with Texas. He is one of the strongest supporters for space science on the Hill. As to his fondness for SLS, another read is that he just wants a HUGE payload headed to Europa. If it’s put on an SLS, you can be sure it’s going to be a HUGE payload, and won’t ever conform to Grunsfeld’s cost caps. To hell with cost caps, Culberson would say.

      But yes, SLS is desperate for a mission. Any mission.

      • Egad

        Actually, Culberson is a real astronomy geek.

        I’d agree with that. Via a slightly indirect route, I’ve seen several times that he does have a personal interest in such matters.

        Just how that folds into the overall picture I couldn’t say. But, like Senator Nelson and unlike the feculent Senator Shelby, he doesn’t seem to be in it solely for the money and votes. (Money and votes never hurt, of course.)

  • While I would love to see a mission to Europa, where will the money come from? If it’s from a plus-up for NASA or from other science programs, fine. If not, I think it politically improbable that the funding would come out of SLS / Orion, and that leaves commercial crew. If it becomes a Europa versus CCtCap fight, my loyalties will be with commercial crew. Extending the numan economic and exploratory spheres into cis-Lunar space is far more important to me that haring prematurely across the Solar System in search of small and extraordinarily expensive bits of pure science.

    – Donald

  • Coastal Ron

    …adding he [Culberson] also inserted the report language specifying that the Space Launch System (SLS) be the baseline launch vehicle for it.

    Why do Congresscritters keep making technical decisions when they are clearly unqualified to do so?

    Yes, yes, I know, because it enriches his congressional district. But at some point the people we elect to run the country have to put aside local considerations for the national good, and telling NASA to use a specific launch system without having done the requisite trade studies is irresponsible.

    • Hiram

      “Why do Congresscritters keep making technical decisions when they are clearly unqualified to do so?”

      You mean like the whole premise for the Senate Launch System? Telling NASA to use a specific launch system without having done the requisite trade studies is indeed irresponsible, and congressional irresponsibility is widespread.

      I think it’s quite possible that in order to justify the most expensive payload to send to Europa, it makes some sense to link it to the most expensive launcher imaginable. Dollars follow dollars. Culberson is probably smart enough, and well qualified enough, to understand that NASA HSF is desperate to find payloads for SLS. Desperate enough that HEOMD might help underwrite such a mission, that would blow SMD cost caps to smithereens. Certainly HST servicing followed that model.

    • Ben Russell-Gough

      Just out of interest, what throw weight to Europa does the current baseline SLS have? It might be worth using an HLV to fit more science on a flight to the outer planets that doesn’t need to spend ten years building up speed with multiple slingshots past Venus and Earth.

  • Another Jupiter orbiter mission is a waste of time. Anything less than a lander or rover mission would be unbefitting of the United States. Titan is by far the most compelling target. We should launch a lander/dirigible mission using SLS. We really need some new blood in NASA management.

    • Jim Nobles

      What’s interesting about Titan? Seriously?

      • Titan has a hydrologic cycle based on liquid hydrocarbons: rain, lakes, streams, downpours of rain… It likely supports cryovolcanism at 300 below zero! The surface landforms and chemistry are at once familiar and incredibly exotic.

        http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/titan_images.html

        Compare this to Europa. Europa has an interesting cracked surface, but is likely very rough. Not amenable to a surface exploration. The surface is bathed in the radiation environment of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

        http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-21341176

        There is no atmosphere to speak of. It’s internal ocean is likely many kilometers below a crust of ice. Boring.

        Titan! Titan is the target.

        • Amightywind: Titan! Titan is the target.

          This is probably the first time I’ve agreed with you! I think you underestimate the interest of Europa’s ocean, but everything you say about Titan is dead on. In fact, I wrote an article on just this subject. Unfortunately, it is not free, but here’s the link to the journal,

          Where Goes the Rain?.

          – Donald

        • Jim Nobles

          Titan! Titan is the target.

          Okay, I can see your points. I guess I would be more interested in icy moons because of the chance of life there. But I see your points.

    • Vladislaw

      Congress picks the NASA admin and upper management flows through congress. It is silly to think NASA is going to going to somehow get some young firebrands in there that will take on congress head on. Garver is the closest we have seen and on her way out she expressed that little change happens.

  • Europa is the wrong moon to be striving for new missions to, at this time! It is our moon, the Moon, which needs further investigation, by American astronauts. Today is coincidentally, the Launch Anniversary of the Apollo 11 expedition, 45 years ago.

    Forty-one full years separate us, from the last time any astronaut left low earth orbit! The spaceflight stagnation & total lack of progress, since that time, has been glaring, & staggering to witness! How our spacemen could have been confined to LEO for four solid decades, is a shocking embarrassment! Surely this great & industrious nation could have continued to acheive brilliant things in space, since those grand Apollo years! A human return to the Moon will be a major prerequisite, on the path of a credible plan for future interplanetary space-flight. Once we have a presidential administration which is friendly to the notion of renewed Lunar treks, a new deep space manned program will come to fruition.

    Hopefully the pointless Asteroid Retrieval Mission idea eventually gets discarded, as it would be a terrible waste of good aerospace resources! To build a giant heavy-lift rocket, a new crew capsule rated for deep space, and a new earth escape stage, just to go bag a meteor rock, strikes me as such a ill-conceived squandering of the nation’s technological might & ability! NASA should be working on a new lunar lander & the related equipment for sojourn landings. Let’s go deal with the Moon first!

    • Hiram

      “Europa is the wrong moon to be striving for new missions to, at this time!”

      No one is talking about sending humans to Europa. Not yet at least.

      “Forty-one full years separate us, from the last time any astronaut left low earth orbit!”

      And we still haven’t figured out why we really need to do so. That fits.

      “How our spacemen could have been confined to LEO for four solid decades, is a shocking embarrassment!”

      If space progress is measured by physical destinations achieved, that might well be the case. Fortunately, we’re smarter than that. Confinement of spacemen is not a national concern.

      ” …ill-conceived squandering of the nation’s technological might & ability!”

      Hello Moon!

      “Hopefully the pointless Asteroid Retrieval Mission idea eventually gets discarded, as it would be a terrible waste of good aerospace resources!”

      The “retrieval” part of ARM (which is really the whole of ARM — that’s what the “R” stands for) is strategically defensible. It has nothing to do with crew capsules. Moving large masses in space to carefully chosen targets is a skill we need to develop to do anything, and is somewhat relevant to planetary protection. The “human visit” part of ARM (which is really called ARCM, and clumsily linked programmatically to ARM) is, however, pretty meaningless. It’s make-work for human space flight.

    • I assume space science and the manned program are funded separately. I we should be doing flagship outer planet missions and a manned return to the moon.

      • E.P. Grondine

        HI AW –

        When you get down to it, it does not matter about the funding legislation, even though from a legislative point of view it does. In the end, it all is paid for by the taxpayer.

        $2,000,000,000 is 500 years of NEO detection at $40,000,000 per year.

        While Europa would be fun, there are other uses for SLS and other launch systems.

        • NEO detection is a waste of time and money, unless it is to identify targets for a manned mission.

          • Dark Blue Nine

            “NEO detection is a waste of time and money, unless it is to identify targets for a manned mission.”

            Said the dinosaurs.

            • The fact is we would already know about a kilometer sized asteroid if it were on an earth collision course. Now we are talking about a search for bodies smaller than 100 meters, like the one that recently hit Russia. Those are not extinction events. The chances of the US being effected by such an event are small. So why should we pay for an extensive search? There are enough amateurs now anyway to do the job. Thus, you metaphor is misleading.

              • E.P. Grondine

                Hi AW –

                You don’t seem to understand the problem here.

                A 150 meter NEO would be enough to take out the US, and a 70 meter one would be enough to take out many of our allies.

                That’s not to mention the nasty side effects…

          • Hiram

            If we aren’t trying to detect, identify and track NEOs, we’d damned well better start flinging lots of people into space! Besides, a credible yearly budget for NEO detection would probably fund a few days of space flight for a couple of humans. So save your breath and look elsewhere for saving money.

            Yeah, cancer and heart disease research is also a waste of time and money. I mean, geez, it’s just about saving people. We ought to use that money to do manned missions to asteroids. Donnng!

          • Andrew Swallow

            Moving a few million Africans out of the way of an incoming too Near Earth Object may count as a manned mission.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Ooops – make that 50 years.

  • amightywind: NEO detection is a waste of time and money, unless it is to identify targets for a manned mission.

    Since both involve NEOs, these are probably one and the same.

    • E.P. Grondine

      Hi Donald -

      Thanks for pointing our the obvious to the oblivious.

      The plan in these tough economic times is tie something that people do care about, such as now getting blown off the face of the Earth or washed off of it, with something that they are lukewarm towards, flying men to the Moon or Mars.

      To sum up, the ARM leaves the US well positioned both for activities in the 2025 time frame, as well as for activities in the 2017-2022 time frame. Which makes ARM the best alternative given the existing situation.

      • E.P. Grondine, FYI, I wrote a defense of this mission in Space News, What is Wrong with Retrieving an Asteroid. Feel free to distribute far and wide!

        – Donald

        • Hiram

          “I wrote a defense of this mission in Space News, ‘What is Wrong with Retrieving an Asteroid’.”

          You missed the boat on that. You didn’t present any arguments there against retrieving an asteroid (which is identically what ARM is about), but rather about sending humans to visit the retrieved asteroid (which is a project called ARCM — Asteroid Retrieval Crewed Mission, that is sloppily duct taped onto ARM).

          In fact, I’d say that moving large, perhaps uncooperative, masses to specific orbital targets (which is exactly what ARM is) is something that has a lot of good rationale, with strong relevance to planetary defense. So the SEP and the nav/ orbital dynamics parts of ARM are smart exercises. As to a bag to catch a 10-meter mass, perhaps not so much.

          Now, certainly, sending humans up to fondle a rock has little value. For science, for planetary defense, or even for a Mars-forward strategy. Sending humans up to BEO has a lot of relevance to a Mars-forward strategy, but they don’t need a rock. A better title for your piece would have been “What’s Wrong With Humans Visiting an Asteroid”.

          • Hiram: You didn’t present any arguments there against retrieving an asteroid

            I believe I was arguing for retrieving an asteroid, and “fondling” it (to use your terminology). You seem to miss a major thrust of the article, to wit, there are a lot of more valuable destinations for human spaceflight (in fact, I list them at the beginning), but given the amount the nation is willing to spend on human spaceflight and the fact that we insist on wasting more than a third of it on SLS, this is one of the only potentially valuable projects we can afford.

            On a wider note, the last time we were arguing this issue, someone asked me what my scientific credentials were. My degree is in archaeology, a science that involves field work. Although I no longer practice that endeavor the imposed long view of history does inform my views on spaceflight (or “influence” them if you don’t agree with me). In general, I believe that many or most scientists who actually practice sciences that use field work (e.g., geology, paleontology) are much less sanguine about achieving their scientific goals with automation than are astronomers and other non hands-on scientists. (When Harrison Schmidt or an experienced fossil hunter says we don’t need geologists on site, I’ll be a lot more prepared to listen than when, say, an astrophysicist tells me that.) As someone who has sat in the hot sun with a toothbrush trying to extract data from thousands of tiny samples, I continue to maintain that “fondling” an asteroid will teach us a lot more about asteroids than trying to extract data from a distance. Second most valuable would be returning samples, which you can certainly do after a fashion w/o humans on site. However, if there is one lesson we should have taken from Apollo it is not to underestimate the value of even non-scientist astronaut observations in establishing the context of samples and how easy it is to be wrong when you don’t have that.

            – Donald

            • Hiram

              “I believe I was arguing for retrieving an asteroid, and “fondling” it (to use your terminology). You seem to miss a major thrust of the article …”

              Yes, I did miss the major thrust of that essay, which I read last time we talked about it, but didn’t remember. But I’d be happy to argue (again) against it now.

              I’ll go over it point by point.

              (1) A human mission to a captured asteroid is not particularly scientifically meaningful, except perhaps in a random way. As in, geez, who knows what we’ll find! We better spend a bundle of money to go put some hands and eyes there! The SBAG advisory group for NASA, which is responsible for offering guidance on asteroidal science, is wholly unenthused about ARM and ARCM, except that if humans go there, gee, don’t forget to look around. That unenthusiasm is documented. I’m sure you’ve seen their recent report. As an aside, ARM is targeting a wholly random rock, and asteroidal diversity means that fondling a random rock tells you little about all the other rocks.

              (2) A human mission to an asteroid doesn’t contribute a whit to planetary defense. Let’s not even go there. NASA started out by selling ARM in the name of planetary defense, and has (quite mercifully) stopped. Humans visiting asteroids in the name of planetary defense is largely an embarrassment to the agency now.

              (3) A human mission to an asteroid exercises human space flight in deep space (which is the main contemporary thrust for ARM/ARCM), but so does a human mission into deep space without an asteroid. That is, a rock has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with exercising those capabilities, and just makes a human mission a lot harder, in that launch schedules are seriously constrained by the orbit of the asteroid in the SDRO. A target in a large SDRO is, by the way, very much not a convenient place to go, schedule-wise.

              So let’s talk about field work. Yes, field geologists take great professional pride at being in the field, and being face-to-face with samples and stratigraphy. But it’s also true that field geologists have almost zero expertise at doing that field work telerobotically. Why? Because humans in situ on the Earth are just too cheap (well, at least on the surface of the Earth – it’s pretty different in the deep sea). That such scientists are less sanguine about achieving goals with automation is simply technological immaturity. We used to say the same thing about automobiles in the age of horses. That’s not something to defend. Actually, you’d be surprised. Field geologists are quite sanguine about electron micrographs, magnetic resonance imagers, and mass spectrometers.

              “Astronomers and other non hands-on scientists”? Geez. It’s pretty cold up on those mountaintop telescopes where astronomers have their hands on their sensitive equipment.

              What you’re talking about is seeing, touching, and mobility and yes, lets face it, in the dark ages of field science (say, a decade or two ago) our telerobotic automation couldn’t support that as well as a human body could. But that’s changing. Right now, we have imaging cameras that can provide stereo, telescopic, microscopic, polychromatic images of a scene. Yep, those cameras can do LOTS better than what a pair of human eyes could do behind a helmet. Right now we have dexterous manipulators that are used for surgery, that can even offer force reflection and some sense of haptics. Yep, those manipulators can do LOTS better than what an EVA gloved human can. We have rovers that can drive around nimbly, and they can do it for months at a time. Yep, they can go pretty much where a human can go, and they can do it continuously. So with the right equipment, who’s going to have better situation awareness? The astronaut in an EVA suit, or the astronaut at a distance controlling a surrogate?

              Now, the big big penalty in space is time delay. On Mars, every telerobotic action and awareness is mitigated by ten minutes of time delay. For an asteroid hauled into cis-lunar space, however, the delay from the Earth isn’t that bad. Even for Mars, what we’re driven to do is to get people close, rather than getting them all the way there (which is especially hard in a dusty gravity field).

              If there is one lesson we should have taken from Apollo, it’s that in 1970, we had to depend on 1970 technology. If there is one lesson we should not take from Apollo, it’s that 1970s technology should define our mode of operation in 2020. Yep, it’s about technological immaturity, and growing up. Choose your lessons carefully.

              Nope, fondling an asteroid close up won’t tell us a lot more than fondling it at a distance. The problem isn’t with fondling, but rather presuming that you have to have your nose in the dirt to do it.

              • Hiram: We better spend a bundle of money to go put some hands and eyes there! . . . but so does a human mission into deep space without an asteroid

                I believe you have stated that there are good reasons to do ARM, just not to send a human mission. But, wait a minute, we’re going to put an asteroid in orbit around Earth’s moon, and we’re going to send an Orion into a similar orbit, but we’re not going to visit the asteroid because it would cost “a bundle of money?” What, in thruster fuel? On this count, your opposition makes no logical sense.

                I believe I addressed the random rock issue.

                That such scientists are less sanguine about achieving goals with automation is simply technological immaturity

                Allow me to rephrase your statement: “That it costs so much to send astronauts to Mars is simply technological immaturity.” Why waste our money trying to automate what is difficult or impossible to automate when you can spend the same money trying to make spaceflight cheaper and send people who are cheap and can easily do the job? Sure, we can send Curiosity to Mars for less than any likely human mission, but if you want to understand even a few hundred kilometers of Mars, you’d have to send hundreds of rovers and wait thousands of rover years to get results. Is it really more expensive per unit science to wait until SpaceX gets the costs down and send a handful of geologists and a good set of rovers and tools? In a way, this is the same arguement as that against SLS. Why spend a bazillian dollars building a giant rocket when you can instead spend (in this case a fraction of the money) making spaceflight cheaper for everyone and actually build and fly your payloads.

                Yep, those cameras can do LOTS better than what a pair of human eyes could do behind a helmet.

                Well, yes and no. They see a lot more wavelengths, so yes, they collect more data. But human eyes convert raw data to what the military calls actionable information far more efficiently than anything yet approached in any camera. The cheapest camera optics can see almost infinitely better than a human eye, but compare even the best CCD image from a camera to what you see of the same scene; yes, there is (a whole lot) more data in the former but there is more actionable information in the latter.

                Yep, those manipulators can do LOTS better than what an EVA gloved human can.

                No. If the task is something that has been anticipated, maybe, but even then probably not, and not if the human hand behind the manipulator much farther than a light second or so. A human hand, even in a glove, can minipulate faster and with far greater efficiency, albeit with less precision.

                We have rovers that can drive around nimbly, and they can do it for months at a time. Yep, they can go pretty much where a human can go, and they can do it continuously.

                Nope, Apollo astronauts (with 1960s technology) did in a day what it takes even the latest of our rovers more than a year to do. They handled steeper slopes, rougher terrain, and gathered more samples that were in some ways more intelligently gathered.

                Read up on what late Apollo missions actually achieved on the surface. For some reason, it’s largely ignored, but it’s actually fascinating reading. What would happen if we put the same effort we spend trying to automate the unautomatable designing better transportation and pressure suits? Hopefully, SpaceX, et al, are achieving just that.

                No robot will find a fossil on a terrestrial desert except in special circumstances (e.g., by looking for microfossils in at a rock already known to have microfossils) or by purest chance. It’s counterintuitive, but macrofossils are even harder to find. It is very difficult even for trained fieldworkers with the latest tools, which is why, even with many thousands of people on the job, it happens so relatively rarely. Then, if you want to understand the life that was there, you have to find hundreds or thousands of samples of each species and start to do statistical analysis. A handful of geologists on site can do this; no robot in the foreseeable future can, and those who think otherwise have no experience at the task at hand.

                I do agree with you we need those tools, but in the hands of geologists. It’s barely possible to immagine a robot finding direct evidence of past life on Mars, but tools by themselves won’t get the job done if that job is understanding life on Mars or ruling it out. Even when they can do a part of the job, they are too scientifically inefficient to succeed in answering the questions.

                – Donald

              • Hiram

                “I believe you have stated that there are good reasons to do ARM, just not to send a human mission.”

                That is precisely what I stated.

                “But, wait a minute, we’re going to put an asteroid in orbit around Earth’s moon, and we’re going to send an Orion into a similar orbit, but we’re not going to visit the asteroid because it would cost “a bundle of money?”

                Nope. Because there is no good reason to do it. It’s a rationale-free endeavor, which isn’t what federal funding should be for.

                “Allow me to rephrase your statement: “That it costs so much to send astronauts to Mars is simply technological immaturity.”

                Bad rephrasing. My point is that humans in this day and age who aren’t willing to trust transporting their senses and awareness via electronic means are suffering from technological immaturity.

                “Sure, we can send Curiosity to Mars for less than any likely human mission, but if you want to understand even a few hundred kilometers of Mars, you’d have to send hundreds of rovers and wait thousands of rover years to get results.”

                As I said, the issue with Mars is time delay. Not robots versus humans. You put humans in orbit around Mars and they will, for a fraction of the cost of putting them at one site on the surface, be able to extend their awareness to many sites on the planet, in real time.

                “Well, yes and no. They see a lot more wavelengths, so yes, they collect more data. But human eyes convert raw data to what the military calls actionable information far more efficiently than anything yet approached in any camera.”

                Please don’t be clueless. You’re missing the point entirely, and wallowing in the old humans versus robots argument. I’m talking about human eyes exploring Mars, but doing so without being there physically.

                “A human hand, even in a glove, can minipulate faster and with far greater efficiency, albeit with less precision.”

                It is generally agreed by space teleroboticists that this is no longer necessarily the case. Be technologically mature. Again, if you mitigate time delays by getting people close, your “faster” argument carries no weight.

                “Apollo astronauts (with 1960s technology) did in a day what it takes even the latest of our rovers more than a year to do. They handled steeper slopes, rougher terrain, and gathered more samples that were in some ways more intelligently gathered.”

                Bonk. Again, our Mars rovers take a year to do what humans can do in a day because of the time delay. But putting people safely and relatively inexpensively in orbit over Mars, those time delays disappear. As to steeper slopes and rougher terrain, you’d be surprised what our military telerobots are able to do. The rock fine samples that MSL gathers are very intelligently gathered. Drill here, and analyze. Did Apollo astronauts do on-site crystallography of drill samples?

                “Read up on what late Apollo missions actually achieved on the surface.”

                I’m very aware of what they achieved on the surface, and it was marvelous. But you should read up on contemporary telerobotics, which are VASTLY more sophisticated than what we’ve sent to Mars.

                “I do agree with you we need those tools, but in the hands of geologists. It’s barely possible to immagine a robot finding direct evidence of past life on Mars …”

                Bonk. We’re not talking about what a robot can find. We’re talking about what a human can find by extending his or her awareness though a robot. Given the multiscale and multiwavelength power that the robot allows a human to see with, and the high degree of mobility and dexterity it offers that human, a human in orbit around Mars, and perhaps around the Moon can exceed in performance what human eyes, legs, arms, and hands on site can accomplish.

                Again, you have to get away from thinking of this as what “robots can do”. It’s about what suitably instrumented humans can do. And you got to get away from this idea that these robots must be operated from Earth. Not so. Operating from orbit, those astronauts can investigate many different sites, and do so without the expense and risk of a dusty gravity well to human travel. This isn’t about robots versus astronauts. It’s about astronauts using robots to extend their awareness.

                Achieving human situation awareness without actually having humans on site is deeply offensive to many people. It’s just not “right”! But being so offended is an unfortunate mark of technological immaturity.

                So climb on your horse and ride to the next town. Nope. You aren’t exercising your mobility. You’re using a tool to give it to you. So pick up the phone and call your friend. Nope, you aren’t using just sound waves to communicate with that friend. You’re using an electronic tool (ooh, robot??) to have a real-time conversation with someone far away. We’ve long ago accepted, and achieved technological maturity, that real conversation can be had without being next to the person you’re conversing with.

                Yes, it’s really hard to twist yourself out of what I call historical exploration. But we now have technological tools to help us do that, and we need to do some growing up to free ourselves from the archaic models of exploration.

              • I agree that placing humans close to Mars would be of great value. That is why I think a PhD-type mission should be high on our list of next steps, and happen long before we try to put humans on Mars. I think the latter is a step too far, given our current levels of technological and operational skills in space.

                Hiram: Yes, it’s really hard to twist yourself out of what I call historical exploration. But we now have technological tools to help us do that, and we need to do some growing up to free ourselves from the archaic models of exploration.

                I do not disagree that a telephone call can let me communicate with a friend, but most of us still fly to visit our friends. I am not arguing that we cannot do good science remotely. What I am arguing is that there are some sciences that cannot be done well remotely, and that these are the sciences whose results are likely to be of most interest, and that remote science is not always the most efficient way to proceed even in the presence of very high transportation costs.

                I’d be interested in your answer to the following question. If I am wrong, why is it that we always design our rovers to find out if there were conditions that might have supported life, rather than to find life? Ever since the Viking failures, we do not send missions to find life, or even past life. If it’s so easy to automate this stuff, why don’t we just send a rover to find a fossil, find one, and declare success?

                I believe we don’t do that because the scientists designing these things know that it cannot be done, certainly not at reasonable cost.

                I stand by my prediction: while it is just possible we might find indications of the current presence of life with automated missions (most likely indirectly, e.g., by finding chemical products that are likely to have been produced by life), we will almost certainly not prove that life existed in the past, or that it hasn’t ever existed, without an extensive human presence able to explore significant areas of Mars’ surface. In other words, we aren’t going to achieve this soon. We won’t ever achieve it if we give up the idea of going there and try to do these things exclusively with remote observations or teleoperations.

                Time will tell. . . .

                – Donald

              • Hiram

                “What I am arguing is that there are some sciences that cannot be done well remotely …”

                No, you’re not arguing that. You’re just saying that. Big difference. I’m waiting to hear about specific things that a suited human in situ could do that could NOT be done by that same human telerobotically from a real-time distance. I’m listening.

                “why is it that we always design our rovers to find out if there were conditions that might have supported life, rather than to find life?”

                Well, that’s trivial. In fact, MSL and MERs are certainly capable of seeing fossils, even on very small scales, and you can bet that each and every image is examined closely to look for them. But what you need, to look for a needle in a haystack, is LOTS of pixels per unit time. MSL and MERs, in communicating with Earth at low bandwidth, with long delays, don’t allow that.

                You put humans in orbit around Mars, sitting in comfortable chairs looking at high resolution display screens, coupled to the surface with nonstop megabit connections, and those astronauts will be absolutely combing the surface, looking for fossils. Much better than if the same suited astronauts were crawling on their knees looking for those fossils.

                Yes, we “always” design our rovers that way, because all the rovers we’ve ever designed are intended to be run by people on Earth. If we designed them to be run by people close by, we’d design them much differently.

                “I believe we don’t do that because the scientists designing these things know that it cannot be done, certainly not at reasonable cost.”

                You’re wrong, for exactly the reason I gave. It’s because you’re still assuming those robots are either autonomous or separated from humans by a long time delay and inferior data rate.

                “we might find indications of the current presence of life with automated missions ”

                See? You’re just not getting it. I’m not talking about “automated missions”! I’m talking about missions where astronauts are operating high precision and high resolution equipment in real time. Nothing “automated” about that. What I’m talking about are tools that give humans a high degree of situation awareness, without actually being there.

                So I guess when your mission is to travel from here to there, and you’re driving a car, you’re using an “automated mission” to get there. Right? Yep, it’s a robot that you’re controlling (though you happen to be sitting on it). Maybe it’s even all electronic. That mode of transportation simply can’t be as good as humans moving their feet, no?

                If you’re using an electron microscope, again you’re using an “automated mission”, I guess. Good luck trying to see that kind of detail without one. By “automated mission” you mean something that uses electricity?? That makes no sense at all.

                “We won’t ever achieve it if we give up the idea of going there and try to do these things exclusively with remote observations or teleoperations.”

                Why not? Those remote operations doing teleoperations could now give us vastly higher resolution than with the naked eye, in many wavelengths and on many scales (microscopes, telescopes). What’s more, our field time won’t be limited by an EVA suit. A few decades ago, that was simply impossible. Welcome to the future.

                But you’re right. Time will tell. Let’s hope we don’t waste it.

                I think putting humans on Mars is a wonderful idea, at least in the interest of colonization and perhaps species insurance. You can’t do that species preservation electronically (though I guess you can sure put a lot of genomes on a memory stick!) But putting humans on the surface of Mars to look for fossils? Nope. That’s archaic.

            • E.P. Grondine

              Hi Donald –

              Since these things hit only rarely, your background in archaeology gives you a view of long periods of time which many do not understand and/or are not aware of.

              The world view of many extends back to the last TV season, or back to their childhoods. US history extends only 500 years; the rest of it is Native American history.

          • Hiram

            P.S. You mention the PhD concept (one of the more sensible things that Fred Singer has come up with). That’s exactly what I’m talking about, EXCEPT that when it was proposed, our technological capabilities were completely unsuited to the task. That is changing.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Culberson said, adding he also inserted the report language specifying that the Space Launch System (SLS) be the baseline launch vehicle for it.”

    And the wisdom of Culberson’s report language becomes even brighter as SLS’s first launch slips into 2018 to accommodate MPCV mass reduction exercises:

    RS-25 Engine Installed for Stennis Testing Amid SLS Schedule Debate
    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/07/rs-25-stennis-testing-sls-schedule/

    It’s always so smart to tie space science priorities to unproven human space flight millstones, er, systems.

    • Hiram

      Well, let’s face it. A Europa mission on an SLS scale won’t be ready to launch for a decade. So they have a lot of time to figure out what they’re going to launch it with once SLS is cancelled. But again, if SLS helps pay for the Europa mission, the cost curve for that mission may be declining by the time SLS goes under. Again, dollars follow dollars. So you want to follow dollars while the dollars are there, and you need lots of them. But once you don’t need as many dollars. the SLS linkage may be less important.

      • Andrew Swallow

        The Europa mission’s back up plan could be to use a SEP tug launched on a second smaller LV.

        • Dark Blue Nine

          The Europa missions under consideration require neither SLS nor a high-power SEP engine. EELVs do the job well.

          • Hiram

            EELVs won’t do that job that well if the mission is Congressionally scaled to an SLS. That is, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to commit to using an SLS for a 10mT mission that an EELV could throw. Of course, making a lot of sense isn’t a high priority for Congress. But yes, the Europa missions that are being considered by SMD right now would do fine with EELVs.

          • That’s not surprising, because the mission is sized to the launcher. But a modest launcher makes for a modest mission. Its time to get more ambitious and use SLS.

            • John Malkin

              Is the SLS cost coming from the human exploration program or the science program? I don’t think the human exploration program should pay for an SLS that is built to take humans BEO. Of course ARM does little to extend humans BEO.

              NASA plantary science should work towards human BEO as a matter of fact Objective E of the Mars 2020 mission states

              Objective D: Conduct key measurements and demonstrations to enable the possible future human exploration of Mars.

              Objective E: Make meaningful technology advancements that enable future strategic Mars missions.

              The Mars In Situ Resource Utilization Technology Evaluation (2012) says

              In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is a key technology required to enable such missions and it is appropriate to review progress in this area and continue to advance the systems required to produce rocket propellant and other consumables on Mars using the carbon dioxide atmosphere and other potential resources

              And yet there isn’t any ISRU experiment on Mars 2020.

              • Hiram

                “I don’t think the human exploration program should pay for an SLS that is built to take humans BEO.”

                Huh? Oh, you mean HEOMD should just continue to pay for ISS? I get it. We should take money out of the Education Directorate for SLS. After all, SLS is all about inspiration, no?

                Don’t be daffy about the reference to human exploration in the Mars 2020 objectives. Objective D was put there at the insistence of HQ. The science community has vast capability for doing science on Mars without humans being there. Their hope is that if we send humans to Mars, those humans won’t forget to do some science.

                Oh, let’s not cherry pick out of the STD report. Objectives D and E actually say, at the end of the lines you quoted — “[perhaps to be made more specific later]“. Heh. As if those future strategic Mars missions are even human missions. Contributing to human exploration missions doesn’t mean that the science community is driving those missions.

                NASA SMD has absolutely no incentive to “work towards humans BEO” except, as you’ll note from 2.2.3 in the STD report — “NASA has a clearly stated agency-level desire to better integrate SMD, HEOMD, and STMD objectives across missions whenever possible.” As in, whatever we do, let’s be cooperative about it.

            • Vladislaw

              Ya …. we need more projects like the James Webb … 10 – 20 billion a pop with 20 year time lines to build them.

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>