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New NASA Shuttle On Fast Track

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In a presentation to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Administrator Griffin laid out NASA’s plans for implementing the President’s Vision for Space Exploration. Although the President’s vision is inspiring, and will have far reaching effects on our country, its economy, and the future of space exploration, the lack of additional funding left many questioning if it was all just election year politics.

Then, on December 21, 2004, the President signed a new national policy directive that established guidelines and implementation actions for United States space transportation programs and activities to ensure the Nation’s continued ability to access and use space for national and homeland security, and civil, scientific, and commercial purposes. The President demonstrated his commitment to the Vision for Space Exploration by making it a priority in his FY 2005 budget request, and Congress responded positively by providing funding for NASA at the level requested by the President.

Nominated by President Bush, and just one month after taking over as the head of NASA, Administrator Michael Griffin has decided that our manned space program is the top priority for NASA, and he is willing to sacrifice lesser programs to move the second generation of Space Shuttle onto the fast track, while holding spending within NASA’s current budget.

Michael Griffin“Several NASA missions and activities will need to be deferred or accomplished in other ways in order to ensure adequate funding for the priorities of the President and the Congress in FY 2005. NASA cannot do everything that we would like to accomplish. Several missions will have to be delayed, deferred, or canceled in order to pay for the missions where the priorities were set by the President and Congress.”

The three remaining shuttles will be retired in 2010, after 28 additional missions. If the schedule set by the previous NASA Administrator were followed, the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) would not be ready to fly until 2015. This would leave the United States without access to low earth orbit or the International Space Station (ISS) for at least four years, a situation completely unacceptable to Administrator Griffin.

“The six-year gap between the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission and the 1981 debut of the shuttle damaged both the U.S. space program and the nation,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to do it again.”

Griffin told the Senate subcommittee on commerce, justice and science that he does not know how much it will cost to accelerate development of the crew exploration vehicle, still in the early design phase. But by choosing a single contractor in 2006, rather than having two contractors competing for the contract through 2008, More than $1 billion dollars could be saved for use in the near term.

“The CEV needs to be safe, it needs to be simple, it needs to be soon,” Griffin told reporters later in the afternoon.

In an age of difficult budget choices, Administrator Griffin is making the right decisions. His leadership is a breath of fresh air for the field of space exploration, and he seems to be exactly what our country needs as the Administrator of NASA.

“For America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us to be the preeminent spacefaring nation. It is equally true that great nations need allies and partners in this journey. That is what the Vision for Space Exploration is about.”

Also posted at VERMONT SPACE, where chickens run free.

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About Bennett Dawson

  • Eric Olsen

    very nice job BD, and I’m glad to hear of your confidence in NASA leadership: to infinity and beyond!

  • Bennett

    Thanks Eric. Griffin has a resume longer than my arm, and has always been committed to the space program. Things could actually get exciting in the next ten years.

  • Eric Berlin

    I’m glad to hear that there’s strong leadership in place at NASA, and it seems to make sense to target a tight space budget on absolute highest priorities.

    I’m equally excited about the prospects of private space operations, which I think can do more over the short-term into pouring investment and resources into space exploration.

    Finally… what ever happened to Bush’s Mars initiative?

  • Bennett

    Mars is a ways off. The CEV is not limited to low earth orbit like the current shuttle, and there are plans for nuclear propulsion (once in space) as part of the project.

    However, for now the plan (as I garner) is to use the CEV to ferry crew and materials to the moon to establish a lunar base first, then use that intermediate base to support manned missions to Mars.

    A progressive staged approach. Hope I live to see at least some of this happen. More likely now that there is a real backbone running NASA.

  • Eric Berlin

    Yeah — I’d love to see a return to the moon. I can see that reigniting the public’s imagination for sure.

    Don’t forget that nations like China might start to up the ante on a new space race. If it’s of a peaceful nature, I think that can only be a good thing.

  • Bennett

    Are you kidding? I’ve been sending hundreds of copies of Heinlein’s books to random scientists in China for years now!

    Figured the only way to get our program going again was to have China step up to the plate.

    As Heinlein wrote and said many times (paraphrased) “The Moon will be colonized someday, but the colonists may not speak English. America does not hold a lock on innovation.”

    Where’s gonzo, he’d have the quote word for word.

  • gonzo marx

    “it may not be America that does it. We are not certain there is intelligent life in Washington, but there IS intelligent life in Peking and Tokyo”

    that help Bennet?

    for reading by the Grand Master, which all shows exactly how to do it, cuz he was a mechanical engineer after all..

    Rocket Ship Galileo ( atomic powered rocket, works)
    the Man who sold the Moon ( how to do it as private industry)

    soOOOoOOooo many more..
    the Moon is a harsh Mistress – one of my favorites here..the Moon as a penal/farming want to see hgwo politics this book..Professor Bernardo de la Paz teaches one of the best lessons about Jeffersonian democracy ever in literature…also possibly the first novel about a computer becoming self aware…

    that enough for now?

    sorry i was late getting to this, in-laws visiting from Alaska for the wife’s college graduation on sunday…


    soOOooOOooo busy..



  • Bennett

    Dead on gonzo, thanks! The book refs are for anyone else who stumbles by. Me? I’ve worn out a few copies of Harsh Mistress and The Man Who Sold The Moon. What a great ending that one has, as Harriman finally realizes his dream. Pure touching entertainment.

    The fact that RHH blueprints “how to do it” makes these books even better.


  • gonzo marx

    another bit ya might want to look up is the Delta Clipper project..

    the individual that designed it and built a working model was trying to get a bid in on the new shuttle..

    in his design document he states this is a “shuttle that works the way that God and Heinlein meant us to fly”

    just google “delta clipper” and you will find it…

    anybody want to form a commercial venture to finance this guy so we can go into orbit and pick up all the junk materials there, then sell it to NASA as building material for the space station and/or lunar base?

    more cost effective that the 10k a pound to lift new material out there…and there IS a lot of junk in orbit at the moment…



  • Victor Plenty

    We don’t need nuclear propulsion to get to Mars. We don’t need any stations in Earth orbit, nor do we need any bases on the moon, in order to get to Mars.

    Building permanent settlements on Mars can be done with the same level of propulsion technology we used to get the Apollo missions to the moon. Launching directly from the surface of the Earth to a landing on the surface of Mars is the best way to get there. Every other step added in between will only add extra costs and time to the process.

    The deficiency keeping us from getting to Mars within the next decade and beginning to establish permanent settlements there is not any deficiency of technology. It is a deficiency of political will.

  • gonzo marx

    i can easily agree on the dearth of political will Voctor, but i must disagree on the differences between direct flight and the staged approach

    since it requires 7 gravities of acceleration for at least 2 minutes to escape the gravity well of near earth orbit you need to consume quite the bit of fuel…hence the extra tanks for Apollo as well as the current shuttle

    the old inverse square law when it comes to needing to liuft the extra mass of the fuel required to lift the payload…this limits the total size of vehicle you can effectively get off earth

    by utilizing the staged approach, you need only bring the fuel required to make Lagrange point orbit…from there is it MUCH easier to either make the trip to our moon, or even direct launch to Mars

    plenty of info out there that delineates this far better than my meager skills..and far better mathemeticians(including Heinlein)than me have had these very issues worked out for the last 50 years or so..

    that is a large part of the problem…the rocket technology we use is indistinguishable form that used by the Penemunde scinetists that created the V2 and helped found the JPL and NASA after WW2

    the upside is that we have made increadible leaps in computer tech since then, in large part due to the research done during the Apollo years..

    hope that helps..


  • Victor Plenty

    The issue is cost, Gonzo. You can get a bigger craft from Earth orbit to Mars than from the surface of the Earth to the surface of Mars. However, that is true only if you are willing to first spend billions and billions of extra dollars building a spaceport and launch infrastructure in Earth orbit, and then additional extra billions launching fuel up there for the Mars mission to use. This is why NASA has previously estimated total costs of up to $450 billion to get the first human bootprints onto Mars.

    Launch costs for a direct mission from Earth surface to Mars surface, by contrast, have come in at estimates of between $20 billion and $50 billion.

    If Mars is the goal, go to Mars. Stopping anywhere else in between here and there will only make the whole process exponentially more expensive.

  • gonzo marx

    those numbers have been worked Victor..and it is MUCH more cost effective to build the Station and launch from there

    yes, i agree it does require a large initial investment, but there are quite a few advantages to it beyond making the Mars run cheaper

    research and development in zero-g and total vacuum alone would more than compensate for the initial costs

    add to that the fact that much of the materials needed are already there in orbit

    as i pointed out previously, one could make quite a fortune cleaning up orbital debris, bringin git to one spot..and then selling the scrap as raw material for construction

    add another one here, the very real possibility of asteroid any astrophysicist can tell you , it is not a matter of if, but a factor of When it will happen..

    an active station can easily hold the facilities not just for early detection of such an Event, but a simple soloution

    to avoid any collision all that needs be changed is either course vector or velocity…so if detected early enough, merely striking the oncoming body with a few BB’s at high velocity can impact both trajectory and velocity of the object, thus avoiding a catastrophic collision

    there’s plenty more, but as i have said, better minds than mine have laid this al out over the years..

    any wonder why over 80% of all the techs and astronauts and engineers that have ever worked at NASA clealry state that they got into it because of reading Heinlein?

    check and see who got NASA’s highest civilian award after his death

    and on and on…


  • Bennett

    If the point was getting a small craft to Mars and that was IT, then you could go direct launch. But can you imagine being in an Apollo sized capsule for the 6 month minimum it would take to drift to Mars after launching from Earth?

    But the real goal is to develop the area of space around and between the Earth and Moon. Materials for construction are already UP in space, we just need to set up the infrastructure to use them. Once we have a permanent base on the Moon, we can manufacture whatever we need to grow the Lunar Base, and provide materials, not for a one-off mission to Mars, but for continued transport of technology and supplies to Mars.

    Here are two viable alternatives,

    Ion Engines are in the final testing phase. These are low thrust, but long haul engines that yield 20 times the thrust per kilo of fuel versus burning cryo hydrogen oxygen fuel (rockets):

    NASA held an open competition for new ways to make the journey to Mars, and the winning proposal is for a plasma beamed approach to provide constant boost for a ship to Mars, with a second plasma beam generator in Mars orbit to slow the incoming ship down to orbital velocity. This is under development and would allow a round trip mission to Mars, complete with an 11 day stay on the surface, to be completed in……..

    90 Days! And the craft can and will be much larger than an Apollo capsule.

    The key is achieving thrust from Earth orbit toward your destination. Constant thrust craft change the nature of space exploration. Nothing else really makes sense for manned spacecraft.

  • gonzo marx

    the formulae for the difference in times with a low boost “coasting” trajectory and a low yield constant boost( ie: 1/10 of a g acceleration) are set out in full detail in the book “Time for the Stars” by Heinlein

    the difference is almost an order of magnitute..months turn into days

    a single stage craft launching from earthg orbit could take up to two years to make Mars landing…whereas a constant boost, even as small as a tenth of a g,could make the same trip in mere weeks…

    lots of good stuff here folks, would that more folks got involved and this Issue really heated up

    many folks say “why bother, just a money sink”

    but i put it to you that History shows that pure Research ALWAYS pays off beyond the wildest dreams of investors..

    without the Apollo missions, for example, we would not have the micro processor, MRI’s, telemetered medical monitoring and so much more…

    tell some friends and get them exited..hell, write your senators and congressmen…

    nuff said?


  • Bennett

    Couldn’t have said it better. We’re painting the inside of the house and ALL my books are in storage for a few weeks. Frustrating to not have the materials at hand, but you came through like a champ.

    I immediately thought of the chart in “Time for the Stars”, and you nailed it! Constant boost is the only way.

    The Delta Clipper info was great. Have you seen the video of the test? Vertical launch, manuvering sideways, and vertical landing. FOK!

    Thanks gonzo, hope your wife’s graduation goes smoothly.


  • Victor Plenty

    11 days on Mars is a waste of time. Who said anything about a “one-off” Mars mission? I certainly never favored that! That’s exactly what I’m against, but it’s exactly what NASA proposed spending half a trillion dollars to do. When they named that price tag, they effectively killed off all broad political and public support for the Space Exploration Initiative proposed by the first President Bush.

    In a better designed mission plan, a vehicle traveling from Earth surface to Mars surface does not need to be as small as an Apollo capsule. A two-story habitat with ample room for a crew of four can be sent on that trip. The crew would spend 180 days in transit each way, and over 400 days on the surface of Mars.

    A plan for such a crew habitat can be seen here.

    Multiple missions of this type can be sent to explore large areas of the planet’s surface.

    When each crew leaves, using a separate vehicle for to return to Earth, their crew habitat will be left behind. Each of these can easily become the first facility of a permanent base, from which later missions can begin to build larger settlements.

    Why do all of this instead of developing infrastructure on the moon and in Earth orbit? Because Mars has the mineral and natural resources to allow human settlements to become self-supporting. Earth orbit has nothing but a smattering of scrap metal. The moon has nothing but trash rocks. Mars has the geological history that creates usable deposits of mineral ores, and these are needed to support an independent branch of human civilization.

  • Bennett

    Sounds good to me Victor. So give me your fix on why this path isn’t being taken. Seriously.

    Me, I’m just glad to see 30 years of nothing (manned missions beyond low earth orbit) come to an end.

    The Mars society layout is great!

  • Victor Plenty

    We lack the political will, at the moment, to do anything that would really establish a long term human presence off the Earth. I mentioned this earlier, but it does not need to be remain a permanent obstacle.

    Missions to orbit and to the moon are politically safer, precisely because they can be halted at any time. The budgets can be slashed, the astronauts brought home, the orbiting space stations allowed to burn up on re-entry, just as was done to Apollo and Skylab and Mir.

    This is also the reason I don’t think small incremental goals like L5 platforms and moonbases will be able to raise the public support needed for a truly vigorous space program. Something large enough to stir the human spirit is needed. Establishing a new and independent branch of human civilization on Mars, I am firmly convinced, is the best goal available to us for that purpose.

    The goal of pioneering Mars is large enough to inspire us, yet small enough to be within reach of our current technology.

  • Bennett

    Those are all very valid points Victor, and I’m with you 100% about the need to establish a permanent, self sustaining colony. In fact, there’s nothing I can dispute in your post.

    Political will. Damn near an oxymoron these days. Ideally, it should all happen at once. The colonies you describe, and L5, and Lunar Base, and earth orbit manufaturing, and SPSS.

    As Eric noted earlier, if China decides to get while the gettin’s good it could change the course of space exploration, and perhaps lead to a Mars initiative as you describe.

    Strange isn’t it, that we could look to China for this kind of spur?

    Thanks for the ideas and input. Please continue.


  • Victor Plenty

    Let’s all continue discussing these ideas, because that is the best way to build up the public support needed for real progress in our space program.

    A bit of competition has a few benefits, whether it’s Europe or China, Japan or India, Brazil or somebody else taking on the role previously filled by the Soviets in the old space race. But I’d rather see us base public support for space exploration on reasoning that won’t go away as soon as we win a race to plant flags and footprints on some arbitrary chunk of rock.

    Right now the world’s largest and most influential space advocacy organization is the Planetary Society, which favors robotic exploration over human missions in most of the solar system, which for them seems to mean just about everything beyond low Earth orbit.

    Favoring robots is certainly best for the outer solar system. However, I am convinced Mars is within the reach of our current technology to establish a permanent human community there.

  • Victor Plenty

    Meanwhile, to get back on the more immediate topic for a moment, I agree that it is good policy to get a space shuttle replacement into operation sooner, rather than later. We have already made international commitments to complete the ISS, and we will need a shuttle replacement as soon as possible to keep those commitments.

    In fact it would be better to have multiple spacecraft designs capable of carrying human crews into space, to reduce the risk of having to ground all human flights after discovering some design flaw in our one and only means of getting our people off the ground.

  • Bennett

    I check the Japan Space Agency site every few weeks. They have a single stage to orbit program that looks interesting. Is the ESA planning on having their own launch vehicle?

    One of the reasons to go full speed with the new shuttle is the total embarrassment of having to hitch rides to get to the ISS, and our current contract with Russia runs out later this year. I agree, it would be great to have several options to low orbit for manned missions. But with the advances in technologies over the last ten years, there is finally hope that a Space Elevator can, and will, be a reality in our lifetime.

    This would change everything as far as cost per kilo of materials lifted to low earth orbit, and would provide some of the excitement and inspiration, especially if elevator tourism becomes available. The link takes you to, where there’s a downloadable powerpoint demonstration. 5 meg, so I’ll wait till later this evening. Dial up sucks!

  • Bennett

    LiftPort plans on a privately developed space elevator by 2018. Visit their site for info.


  • Victor Plenty

    All the places I listed were hypothetical examples of potential competitors to the American space program. As far as I know, none of them are anywhere near having the human launch capabilities of Russia or the United States. China is certainly headed in that direction, but their human spaceflight program is still about where we were around 1960 or so. Europe or Japan could catch up with us easily enough if they really wanted to.

    It’s true a space elevator would change a great deal. There is certainly no other way to get bulk launch costs as low as a space elevator could make them. However, I’ve read that the long transit times could make a space elevator too dangerous for humans, due to excessive exposure to radiation. So it may not make rocketry obsolete right away, but even if the only thing we can put on it is inert building materials, a space elevator would revolutionize our capacity to develop near-Earth space infrastructure.

    But I don’t think we should wait for a space elevator. Even if we do end up building such a thing, I still think pioneering Mars would be our most logical next step in space. Moonbases, orbital platforms, asteroid exploration, and other projects, cool as they all are, can wait until later.

  • Victor Plenty

    By the way, 5 meg shouldn’t take too long to download, even on dialup. I’m on dialup and just this morning I downloaded an 11 meg movie trailer file, in the background as I browsed here and elsewhere. It took less than an hour to finish.

  • Bennett

    I don’t care WHO colonizes the Moon or Mars, so long as there is a serious program to do as you say, found a permanent base off-Earth. It would be just as inspiring to watch videos of colonists from China or Russia. The flag patch on the sleeve is irrelevant, to me anyway.

    It will be a proud moment for humanity when we finally leave the cradle of our planet and establish a viable permanent settlement on another globe.

  • Victor Plenty

    I share your view, Bennett. Any permanent human presence no longer wholly dependent on just this one planet would vastly increase the chances of our long term survival as a species. To me, that is the most significant goal of all space exploration.

    Of course, any nation that establishes a solid presence in space will not take long to benefit from a tremendously expanded resource base. Access to the minerals in the asteroid belt and the other vast wealth of the solar system can become a significant advantage, especially for a populous nation like China or India. Thus, people who have a nationalistic desire to make sure their own country is among the first to get out there are not entirely wrong in their way of thinking.

    If such priorities can be made to serve the benefit of all humanity, by driving nationalists’ energies to exploration instead of war, I see that as a good side benefit of space exploration.

  • Eric Berlin

    There’s a great novel, written in the 80s (or perhaps late 70s) that talks about this possible near-future, harnassing the asteroid belt and the political scramble and so forth.

    I’m sure there’s lots of them, but the one I mention is called Privateers, by Ben Bova.

  • Victor Plenty

    I’ve read a few of Bova’s works, but not that one. I’ll have to check it out.

    Not right away, though. I’m still busy with Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle at the moment.

    Some good nonfiction looks at the resources to be found in space include Entering Space by Robert Zubrin, and Mining the Sky by John S. Lewis.

  • Eric Berlin

    Bova’s Orion series was a favorite of mine as a kid as well.

    I’ve heard so much about Stephenson over the months at BC that I simply must check him out at some point.

  • gonzo marx

    Baroque cycle is awesome..just finished onfusion..should pick up the third one this week..

    Privateers is a fine novel, and does touch a lot of this..

    as any Reader of my own mad ranting knows , i am much the Heinlein fan…since he was a mechanical engineer, mathemetician(he wrote the Britannica entry for Dirac, among other works) and all around heavyweight thinker..i do tend to go with his View on how this can come about…hence my earlier diatribes on this Thread…

    after all, when Apollo 13 had it’s problems and they needed a way to get back without enough was Heinlein’s “S” curve orbit that provided the answer…since he had written the same scenario..and worked out the proper trajectory and thrust factors many years earlier…

    so my most Profound apologies to any i might have horked off by my staunch rants..i never meant to offend…i was merely attempting to show that all these problems had been worked out up to 50 years ago…from the financial, the political to the technology…

    he proved it could be done THEN…with only the tech that was available at the time..(see Rocket Ship Galileo, even current experts in the field at NASA and MIT still say it would work)

    hope that helps…


  • Eric Berlin

    Which Heinlein novel(s) would you say best capture the spirit of humanity moving into the cosmos, Gonzo?

  • gonzo marx

    oh my stars and garters…that is a loaded Question…

    the Man who sold the Moon is a book containing the various short stories of Delos D. Harriman, and his getting a lunar colony set up…starting with the efforts for the first launch, done as a commercial venture…by the time it ends, there is a thriving colony…and he is the richest man in history…closely followed by those that helped back him…

    his Idealism…the Dream he followed…that might best sum it up..

    Rocket Ship Galileo
    Time for the Stars
    Space Cadet (i know..but this was written long before the idiom hit the culture)
    the Green Hills of Earth

    those deal with the exploration and the Dream in many ways…all from a very human perspective of the Protagonist actually involved in exploration…

    there’s more than 20 more that deal with being IN space..or on a colony, or such where the concept of space travel is an accepted Postulate of the Story…these show a deeper understanding…and help the reader to “feel” what such societies would/could be like…

    and i could rant on this topic all night..

    but you get the idea..


  • Eric Berlin

    Very cool, Gonzo, thanks.

  • gonzo marx

    hey..more than happy to be of service..

    >bows, hand over fist< Excelsior!

  • Victor Plenty

    Heinlein was smart, but too fixated on the moon, like many other smart people of his era.

    Most of the fixation on the moon as a supposedly good place to build settlements dates back to before we had any samples of the materials to be found there. Now that we have a better idea of just how barren the moon is, only mental habit persuades people to think it a good place for any activities like mining.

    Take water, for example. The vast majority of the moon’s surface is dry as a bone. Actually it makes a bone look wet. If you were on the moon and you had some condrete, you’d look at it as a rich source of water. If there is any usable water at all on the moon, it exists only in a few deposits of ice in shadowed craters near the poles.

    Mars is nowhere near as wet as our home planet, of course, but water is much more readily available there than it will ever be on the moon.

  • gonzo marx

    Victor sez..
    *einlein was smart, but too fixated on the moon, like many other smart people of his era.*

    more than 60 novels..a lot more short stories..essays and lectures..

    very small percentage dealt with the Moon

    as for the water are quite correct, and i totally agree..Mars is a much better bet

    but i never said there was a need for a lunar colony …merely that a space station at L5 for a staging point to construct and laucnh a Mars craft makes more sense fiscally and politically than attempting a zero gee orbit from earth’s surface..

    that point is arguable..i agree…and i have no problem with your position there, merely stating my own

    nuff said?


  • Victor Plenty

    I’d like to tell you whether or not what I advocate is “a zero gee orbit from earth’s surface” but first I must request that you elaborate a bit more on what exactly that means.

    As for Heinlein being fixated on the moon, of course I’m not talking about the percentage of his work devoted to directly talking about the moon. I’m simply saying he assumed the moon to be the logical next step for human settlement. Many people did back then, but that was before we had any good information on the moon’s resources.

    Building spacecraft in orbit or on the moon is hugely more expensive than building them on Earth, and unnecessary when launching directly from Earth to Mars is well within the capacity of current technology.

  • gonzo marx

    the orbit i described is when you escape planetary gravity, then aim at where you want to go…accelerate and coast, at the proper time..rotate and accelerate to stop where you want

    if you are launching from the earth’s surface..that is the type of orbit you will have to shape..the inverse square law limits the amount of reaction mass/fuel you can carry

    launching from orbit removes this limitation as well as not requiring the staging and fuel to lift from inside the earth’s gravity well…you know ..those minutes of 7 gee acceleration that is the lions share of the cost

    that is why it is more economically feasible to build and launch from orbit, the same amount of fuel can be used for a fractional constant boost acceleration orbit…cutting down the time required, thus the resources need for the trip..leaving more payload for the actual Mars landing and surface mission…

    i hope that helps clarify..


  • Victor Plenty

    Launching from orbit still requires fuel lifted out of Earth’s gravity well up to the orbital platform, which adds huge amounts of launch costs to the total expense of any such Mars mission.

    A better alternative is to acquire the fuel for the return trip on Mars. This frees up more payload capacity on the outgoing trip for the astronauts and their supplies. They can even still use a free-return trajectory, like the one that saved the crew of Apollo 13, to have Mars slingshot them back to Earth in case anything goes wrong.

    The machinery for manufacturing rocket fuel from the Martian atmosphere is based on technology perfected in the nineteenth century, and has already been tested in air just as thin as the air of Mars.

    With this mission plan, before the astronauts ever leave Earth, there will already be a return vehicle sitting on the surface of Mars, fully fueled and ready to bring them home at the end of their mission. This is why they will have the supplies to stay on the surface of Mars for well over a full Earth year, instead of just a week or two as proposed earlier in this discussion.

  • gonzo marx

    one Trick you missed, Victor..

    the fuel used can easily be hydrogen, which does NOT have to be lifted…but can be gathered from orbit…it IS the most abundant element in the universe as far as we know..and there is quite the bit hanging around in the outer atmosphere

    as for utilizing ANYTHING on Mars …well..i woudl think you would want a much better survey before you drop folks there with no guaranteed return ticket

    but i easily agree that most everything they need SHOULD already be there, if they have the means to gather and refine it when they land


  • Duane

    Bush’s so-called vision has caused a disastrous upheaval in the astronomy and astrophysics community. I know that most Americans don’t give a damn about Hubble, Cassini, Chandra, Spitzer, Swift, and many other missions that actually lead to exciting science. I know that having astronauts attaching widgets to useless pieces of orbiting space junk, like the space station, is supposed to capture our imagination. But I wonder why Bush’s “vision” (which, of course, NASA must adhere to, like it or not) so blatantly ignores the Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics. In the past, the recommendations of this panel, which provides a national consensus of scientists, have been followed closely by NASA, without interference from silly visions coming out of Washington. Bush’s vision is sacrificing actual scientific exploration in favor of wasteful, and generally useless, manned missions.

  • Eric Berlin

    These debates remind me very much of those discussed in James Michener’s Space, which I read when I was 12 or 13.

    Launching missions from Earth, low Earth orbit, the moon, etc. Manned vs. unmanned… it’s fascinating stuff.

    Let’s hope we all live to see an age where our problems on the ground become small enough where enormous time and resources can be used to explore and reach out into the cosmos.

  • Bennett

    “I know that most Americans don’t give a damn about Hubble, Cassini, Chandra, Spitzer, Swift, and many other missions that actually lead to exciting science.”

    I dispute this Duane, but you do make good points about the sad impact of budgetary constraints on some of the projects that will be slowed or postponed for a few years.

    “useless pieces of orbiting space junk, like the space station”

    This too I dispute. Having a platform to conduct zero-G science experiments is the pursuit of knowledge, and as gonzo noted above, research ALWAYS pays dividends.

    Moving forward NOW is important, the Earth does not have unlimited resources, and the sooner we can tap into the great wealth that exists beyond our gravitational field, the soon we can reduce the planet killing industry that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of folks every year.

    A common statement of those who see no value in the space program is “We should spend the money here on Earth before we spend it to get into space.” This is a shallow and obtuse argument. Lewis and Clark would still be in Kentucky if Americans demanded that the East Coast be trouble free, before looking to expand westward.

    Thanks for the post. All I ask is that you try to see the positive effect Hubble has had on all of humanity before you declare that “Americans don’t give a damn.”

    We do.


    Good points, Bennett.

  • Duane


    The fact that you might be excited about the results of unmanned space exploration does not provide sufficient grounds to dispute my statement that most Americans do not care.

    Sorry to sound so cynical about comments like

    Having a platform to conduct zero-G science experiments is the pursuit of knowledge, and as gonzo noted above, research ALWAYS pays dividends,

    but my take on this is as follows:

    Q: Why do we need a space station?
    A: So we can study the long-term effects of zero-gee on human physiology.
    Q: Why is that important?
    A: Because we need humans in orbit to build and repair orbiting craft like the space station.

    It’s circular. There is no good reason to have humans in orbit other than “it’s like gee whiz, ain’t it cool?” And there is even less reason to go to the Moon (remember, we did that already!), and even less reason to go to Mars. I have heard all about zero-gee experiments in materials science, etc. Can you provide some examples of how the billions of dollars of Space Shuttle and Space Station investment has paid off?

    A common statement of those who see no value in the space program is “We should spend the money here on Earth before we spend it to get into space.”

    True enough. You realize, of course, that I did not make that statement.

    All I ask is that you try to see the positive effect Hubble has had on all of humanity before you declare that “Americans don’t give a damn.”

    Huh? You’re taking the point I was trying to make — that unmanned space exploration has actual value, and not just Hubble with its pretty pictures — and using it as if it was your point. I’m asking you to try to see the positive effect that unmanned exploration has had on all of humanity, and then to acknowledge that, by comparison, manned space flight is a disaster. It’s a zero-sum game.

  • Tom Johnson

    Duane, your comment reveals an embarassing amount of ignorance about the benefits of the space program. The lack of gravity that space flight provides is crucial to the development of some crystal structures that would ordinarily never form under the stress of gravity, allowing scientists to create and study things that eventually make their way into medical treatment and even everyday life. Not to mention that without the space program we wouldn’t have such commonplace things as Velcro, or advanced plastics, and a million other things that you take for granted every day. Are you embarassed yet? You should be. You owe it to yourself to read up on what the space program does for YOU here, if only to prevent those of us who actually have been paying attention to the space from having to listen to your ignorant complaints.

  • Bennett

    People younger than forty don’t know what life was like in the 70s. Nothing was computerized, nothing was digital, cassettes were high tech, you only saw movies in theaters, timing lights were part of every mechanics toolbox, drive up banking was new wave, no cell phones or GPS, and broadcast television was IT.

    If you got sick, it was either x-ray diagnosis or exploratory surgery. The field of medicine is unrecognizable compared to what was available when I was a kid.

    So many changes in the last 30 years that can ALL be linked back to the miniaturization developed for the Apollo Program (we needed a ballistic computer small enough to fit into a space capsule).

    This is a pitifully partial list of what comes from investing money in the Space Program. Not to mention TRILLIONS of dollars of new industry for the USA, the internet, the very computer you are using to claim that manned space exploration is unnecessary, and a higher standard of living for the entire world.

    Good deal, eh?

  • JR

    You guys are overselling the manned space program, and you’re going to get burned when some cost-cutting senator comes along and debunks all your hype.

    Much of the technological progress you are attributing to the Apollo program can just as easily be credited to the Department of Defense, e.g. the internet.

  • gonzo marx

    ok..yes, the ‘net is the descendant of ARPA net, designed by the military and colleges with DoD funding..

    can you possibly deny that the COMPUTER you are typing on is NOT a product of NASA research?…remember…in the 60’s you could walk insdie part of the computer, set up sub-routines with punchcards…used a reel to reel tape for a drive…

    the transistor and the IC chip are products of NASA research…so many advances in medical tchnology come form there as well..

    think about it everytime you use your cel phone, see a GPS, or a digital dish for TV reception…

    on and on…

    am at lunch at work..i will try and get back to this at home this evening..

    but there was a good point above..
    if you are young enough to have ALWAYS had CD’s, cable tv..remote controls and so on..

    then you really need to look at near History in the eyes of cultural anthropology and technology to even begin to understand…

    film at 11


  • Bennett

    Yeah JR, you’re right. DOD spending usually leads to trickle down technology. Kevlar undies fer example.

  • Victor Plenty

    Gonzo, it seems you misunderstood what I was saying about the most efficient way for Mars explorers to return to Earth.

    I never said they should land first with no way to get home, then hope to be able to manufacture fuel for the return trip. I said the exact opposite of that!

    The return vehicle will land on Mars without any crew. Its automated systems will then manufacture fuel from the atmosphere. After all the fuel needed for the return trip has successfully been synthesized, and only then, would the crew be launched from Earth.

    It might be possible to gather hydrogen from the upper atmosphere of Earth and make it into rocket fuel, as you advocate, but has this ever been done? Has it even been tested in a lab? Laboratory tests have already shown fuel can be synthesized from the atmosphere of Mars.

  • richard

    Even better news:
    NASA will delay two ambitious missions to search for extrasolar planets in order to fund a shuttle mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, agency chief Mike Griffin told a US Senate subcommittee on Thursday

  • Bennett

    This is sad news. When I reported this story, it was clear that moving the replacement shuttle onto the front burner would cause other programs to be delayed or cancelled.

    But I stand by my opinion that Mike Griffin is doing the right thing. I think the worry of anyone who wants to see NASA get back into space beyond low Earth orbit, is that we retire the shuttle and then funding for NASA is cut to help balance the budget.

    What a mockery that would be, to abdicate space exploration to the rest of the world because we can’t stop our lawmakers from dealing out pork after pork after pork, and then we drop NASA to pay for it.

    Hubble is a National Treasure at this point. It is still producing vast amounts of data, and can continue to do so for years to come. To balance the discoveries yet to take place with Hubble, against new projects such as you mention is a hard call.

    Mike Griffin is qualified to make the call, and that’s why he’s in charge right now.


    The DOD has produced some amzing technology that has civilian uses, but so has the space program, and the DOD has probably used the space program for even more research and development. By cutting out the space program, we are tying one hand behind our backs in R & D.

  • Bennett

    No doubt SFC SKI, I knew I’d hear from you the second I posted my lame attempt at humor. Doh!

    I like your analogy. R&D always pays.


    I am all for humor, and considering I jsut found a place that imports real German beer, I am about to be in a much better humor. Tampa traffic always puts me on edge forthe first hour after I get home. Prost!

    (wonder how zero-grav beer would taste?)

  • Temple Stark

    Great report. Sorry if someone mentioned it above but the CEV sucks as a name. That is snore-inspiring not inspiring.

  • Duane

    Thanks for the link Tom Johnson. I was especially impressed by the Personalized Beauty Makeover from Mars, the revolutionary improvements in the field of Golfball Aerodynamics, and the Robotic Mother Pig. National Lampoon couldn’t have written a funnier website. Thanks for the laughs. Yes, let’s go to Mars! Maybe they will come up with a laser-guided toothbrush. It’s worth it!

    But seriously, Tom, everyone is aware of the incidental “spin-off” aspect of the space program. NASA is careful to point this out regularly in their interest to be accountable to the taxpayers. NASA staff, of course, just wish they could do their work without having to pander to the masses with nonsense about how the space program is helping us reduce our electrical bills.

    It’s also worth pointing out to you, Tom, that I was specifically drawing a distinction between the manned space program and the unmanned space program, as anyone who had read my posts could see. Interestingly enough, most of the spin-offs and tangible benefits of the space program involve unmanned missions, such as Landsat. And (now, pay attention to this next part, Tom), almost all scientific results have come from unmanned missions. Why is that? Because the presence of moving humans makes most experiments impossible. Should I remind you of the exorbitant costs attached to the human presence? For example, the fact that the Hubble Space Telescope was forced to be Shuttle deployable lead to a cost overrun of a factor of seven. We could have flown seven Hubble-class observatories for the same cost, so no need to remind me that astronauts serviced the Shuttle on orbit.

    The sad fact is that Bush’s policy is gutting the good part of NASA, the unmanned mission program. And I’m fully aware of what the unmanned space program has done for me and the world. That’s why, as you say, I’m complaining.

  • Victor Plenty

    To a certain extend I must agree with Duane. Arguments based on “technology transfer” or “technology spin-off” do not hold up to scrutiny very well, which makes them weak supports for sending humans into space. If it’s Teflon and Velcro we really want, we can funnel our money into such research directly, without all that tedious mucking about in space.

    Later on this can and should change, when we start to mine asteroids and bring back large quantities of helium-3 from the gas giant planets. But by that point the benefits of a human presence in space would be so obvious, there would no longer be any need for a “technology transfer” line of argument.

    The strongest and most justifiable goal for sending human crews into space is to establish permanent, self-supporting settlements. Any lesser goal is not worth the risk and expense of sending humans, and is better suited to robotic spacecraft.

  • Bennett

    “Any lesser goal is not worth the risk and expense of sending humans, and is better suited to robotic spacecraft.”

    The risk is not a factor. When we sacrifice 1,500 Americans to “liberate Iraq” the likelyhood that we will eventually lose a few dozen astronauts or colonists, in order to expand the frontiers of humanity, is a rediculously small price to pay.

    Highly educated men and women are lining up to take this risk.

    All the studies and cost estimates for ISS, a Lunar Colony, a Mars Colony and the other feasible projects noted in this thread lack one element. They don’t ask the question “What’s the cost to our country and humanity if we do nothing at all?”

  • Victor Plenty

    Yes, expanding the frontiers of humanity is worth it. No argument from me there.

    All I’m saying is, frontiers are the edges of the places where people live. Not just places where they go for a brief time, gather some data, and then scoot back home again.

    When all we want from space is scientific data, we can send robots to gather the data. When we are ready to make new homes for human beings, that is when it is time to send humans.

  • Bennett

    That’s a given.

    If the path to the Mars is through a successful Lunal Colony, even if it’s just to satisfy short sighted beaurocrats, we ultimately achieve what we both believe in.

    BTW Victor, the plasma acceleration timetable with a 12 day stay at Mars was showing how the system could resupply, or deliver new scientists, within the window of closest approach. There and back without the months long wait for realignment.

    Thought I should clear that up.


  • Victor Plenty

    Yes, we both share the same ultimate goal, Bennett, which is to see at least part of the human species leave our cradle and continue our journey toward the stars. In terms of general principle, I certainly have nothing against research into better propulsion technologies, nor do I particularly oppose bases on the moon or in Earth orbit.

    What I oppose is waiting for all those other things to get done before we begin pioneering Mars, for the same reasons I oppose waiting until Earth is a paradise with no more major problems before we begin pioneering Mars.

    If our technological civilization has enough spare resources to afford a multibillion dollar cosmetics industry, a multibillion dollar pet food industry, and several multibillion dollar entertainment industries, we damn sure have enough to expand the frontiers of human civilization beyond this planet. So there is no reason for us to go on keeping all our eggs in one basket.

    At this time, the most hospitable place for human life in this solar system, other than Earth, is Mars. That is why I favor settling humans on the red planet as soon as possible, and it is possible with the technology we already possess.