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posted by janrinok on Thursday August 11 2016, @02:52AM   Printer-friendly

Moon or Mars? It isn't a mutually exclusive choice but we'd be idiots to ignore the ideal staging post.

NASA engineer, Wingo, makes a detailed, costed argument that the current best-of-breed technology should be directed to the Moon. Specifically, the Saturn program should be continued in preference to SLS. The reason is quite simple. With advances in manufacturing, materials and guidance systems, a known quantity with known corner cases can be made safer and cheaper. (It would also avoid launchpad upgrades and other superfluous costs.)

As a matter of international co-operation, this could be augmented with Russian technology and suchlike. Yes, redundant airlocks or airlock adaptors may be required. However, does it really matter if a substantial structure requires seven payloads or eight payloads? From our current position eight is cheaper and more certain even if seven would be better in the long-term.

What would this structure be? A waystation in high Earth orbit for fueling and crew transfers. Fueling of what? Initially, craft to bootstrap a permanent base on the Moon with solar and nuclear power. Fueling is also needed until there is sufficient infrastructure on the Moon to produce fuel locally. Even then, fuel is required in high Earth orbit for emergencies. Overall, this is a plan to go from zero presence to an economic break-even point and beyond.

[Continues...]

A mineral mining expedition to the Moon has an estimated ROI of 22 years. More worryingly, the total cost is dwarfed by student loans, mortgage fraud and bank bail-outs - and that's just counting US figures. That's the most damning part. If we never get off Earth it will be due to the soul-sucking 1%ers and the legions of B-Ark space-cadets. On that basis, we deserve to not get anywhere.

Admittedly, figures for mineral mining assume that a glut in the market won't cause a price crash. There is a certain irony that a mining expedition to the Moon may never be economically feasible if it makes resources too plentiful. But seriously, that is a risk worth taking because it provides opportunity to move the majority of heavy industry outside of the biosphere. Even ignoring this, it would be possible to drop titanium airships into the atmosphere with a cargo of tritium from the Moon's South Pole. Or lithium. Or neodymium. Do you think there's enough lithium or neodymium for everyone to have an electric car? There is if we mine the Moon. (Or maybe that's why we don't go? Would we use the resources sensibly prior to mass population reduction and careful management of MTE?)

The typesetting is a bit dodgy but the message is clear. Until transport to the Moon becomes routine, human missions further afield are a work of speculative fiction. Actually, there comes a point when sending robotic probes further into the solar system becomes cheaper when sent from the Moon. And that's the point where we should seriously consider further expansion. Not before.


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The Climate-Change Solution No One Will Talk About 48 comments

Jason Plautz writes at The Atlantic that the more the world's population rises, the greater the strain on dwindling resources and the greater the impact on the environment. "And yet the climate-change benefits of family planning have been largely absent from any climate-change or family-planning policy discussions," says Jason Bremner of the Population Reference Bureau. Even as the population passes 7.2 billion and is projected by the United Nations to reach 10.9 billion by the end of the century, policymakers have been unable—or unwilling—to discuss population in tandem with climate change. Why? Because "talking about population control requires walking a tightrope." writes Plautz. "It can all too easily sound like a developed world leader telling people in the developing world that they should stop having children—especially because much of the population boom is coming from regions like sub-Saharan Africa." Just look at what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2009, when as secretary of State she acknowledged the overpopulation issue during a discussion with Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Clinton praised another panelist for noting "that it's rather odd to talk about climate change and what we must do to stop and prevent the ill effects without talking about population and family planning."

A 2010 study looked at the link between policies that help women plan pregnancies and family size and global emissions. The researchers predicted that lower population growth could provide benefits equivalent to between 16 and 29 percent of the emissions reduction needed to avoid a 2 degrees Celsius warming by 2050, the warning line set by international scientists. But the benefits also come through easing the reduced resources that could result from climate change. The U.N. IPCC report notes the potential for climate-related food shortages, with fish catches falling anywhere from 40 to 60 percent and wheat and maize taking a hit, as well as extreme droughts. With resources already stretched in some areas, the IPCC laid out the potential for famine, water shortages and pestilence. Still, the link remains a "very sensitive topic," says Karen Hardee, "At the global policy level you can't touch population … but what's been heartening is that over the last few years it's not just us, but people from the countries themselves talking about this."

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by physicsmajor on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:02AM

    by physicsmajor (1471) on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:02AM (#386494)

    I've visited every link in this post. It's nice to have a lot of things explained if people are unfamiliar, and the story is well written. That doesn't excuse the fact that not one leads to the referenced blog by a NASA engineer named (or going by the online tag) Wingo.

    Cursory Googling didn't turn up the actual source either, or I'd have posted it here. Shame, because the above rings true and I'd like to read it.

    Perhaps someone can help us all out below.

    • (Score: 2) by physicsmajor on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:04AM

      by physicsmajor (1471) on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:04AM (#386495)

      Guess it's a book, and I should read the friendly title better.

      Given the subject, it's too bad he didn't put it in the public domain. The kind of cogent analysis promised needs to be freely and publicly available to guide policy.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:27AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:27AM (#386497)

        Is it a work by government (NASA) and thus gets no copyright? I tried to find out but the legalese was way too thick for me.

        • (Score: 2, Informative) by Scruffy Beard 2 on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:51AM

          by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:51AM (#386512)

          Would not apply if the work was done on his own time.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:57AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:57AM (#386502) Journal
      Incidentally, Dennis Wingo's blog [wordpress.com] has some great stuff. For example, he posted some papers on evaluating locations for polar sites for a lunar outpost. My internet is dog slow at the moment so I don't have time to hunt down a link to what I'm speaking of.

      My view is that the most valuable piece of real estate in the Solar System outside of the Earth, of course, is the Moon. Not because of its mineral resources or better access to space (through lower gravity and no atmosphere), though it does have that, but because of its proximity to Earth. At under three seconds round trip, it is quite possible to do real time teleoperations on the Moon by someone with a computer on Earth which greatly reduces the cost of operations on the Moon. To get that response for long term projects on Mars, you would need people living within a few light seconds of Mars, meaning they would have to be either in orbit or on the surface.
      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:13AM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:13AM (#386505) Journal

        To get that response for long term projects on Mars, you would need people living within a few light seconds of Mars, meaning they would have to be either in orbit or on the surface.

        I guess this counts as "in orbit", but there is a semi-easy option for Mars: use Phobos and/or Deimos.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobos_(moon)#As_part_of_a_manned_mission_to_Mars [wikipedia.org]

        Phobos has been proposed as an early target for a manned mission to Mars. The teleoperation of robotic scouts on Mars by humans on Phobos could be conducted without significant time delay, and planetary protection concerns in early Mars exploration might be addressed by such an approach.

        Phobos has also been proposed as an early target for a manned mission to Mars because a landing on Phobos would be considerably less difficult and expensive than a landing on the surface of Mars itself. A lander bound for Mars would need to be capable of atmospheric entry and subsequent return to orbit, without any support facilities (a capacity that has never been attempted in a manned spacecraft), or would require the creation of support facilities in-situ (a "colony or bust" mission); a lander intended for Phobos could be based on equipment designed for lunar and asteroid landings. Additionally, the delta-v to land on Phobos and return is only 80% of that for a trip to and from the surface of the Moon, partly due to Phobos's very weak gravity.

        The human exploration of Phobos could serve as a catalyst for the human exploration of Mars and be exciting and scientifically valuable in its own right.

        Phobos and Deimos are much closer to Mars than the Moon is to Earth, so the teleoperation will be even closer to real-time.

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    • (Score: 1) by jlv on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:06PM

      by jlv (3756) on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:06PM (#386690)

      It's a book review. So you look for the book: https://www.google.com/#safe=off&q=Moonrush+by+Dennis+Wingo [google.com]

      And that gives:

      Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources
      https://books.google.com/books/about/Moonrush.html?id=fQ1ZAAAAYAAJ [google.com]
      https://www.amazon.com/Moonrush-Improving-Earth-Resources-Apogee/dp/1894959108 [amazon.com]

      • (Score: 1) by jlv on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:08PM

        by jlv (3756) on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:08PM (#386692)

        and the book is from 2004.

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:37PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:37PM (#386717) Homepage Journal

      Not a famous author [wikipedia.org] (no wikipedia entry on him) but the link above mentions him.

      B&N and Amazon both want twenty five bucks for a PAPERBACK, but Amazon has one available for about three.

      Glad to see this review, far better than yesterday's. I wonder of the library has a copy? I'll have to look.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:36AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:36AM (#386498)

    My guess is that it isn't easy to recreate the Saturn 5 booster. While drawings might survive(?), pre-CAD/CAM, there was a huge amount of work done by expert toolmakers, machinists, fabricators, etc...to actually create the parts as intended. Nearly all those experienced people are gone now, and it will take a lot of R&D to recreate what they contributed to the space program in their day.

    One small example from that period. A retired friend from the tire industry volunteered as part of a team to recreate the steel wire tires used on the Apollo moon buggy. I think it took them about a year, details here, http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-120508a.html [collectspace.com]

    Another problem is environmental. Chemicals/materials that were commonly used in the 1960s are no longer available--too hazardous for people/environment/both. All these will need substitutes which will have to be tested and qualified.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @06:30AM (#386533)

      https://www.quora.com/How-did-we-lose-the-technology-to-go-to-the-Moon [quora.com]

      The tech ecosystem today is different from 50 years ago. The tools, machines, materials, processes, regulations and factories are different.

      I'm sure there was tons of undocumented stuff now gone. Especially since it was kind of a rush job and the quantities for many parts could be quite small. You could have a batch that finally met the specs but 50 years later nobody knows what they did to get that batch that way, nor was it documented anywhere.

      See also: http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/26/science/hunt-is-on-for-scattered-blueprints-of-powerful-saturn-moon-rocket.html [nytimes.com]

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday August 11 2016, @07:55AM

      by frojack (1554) on Thursday August 11 2016, @07:55AM (#386546) Journal

      Somewhere there is a warehouse.... Not of parts, but of tools and dies and all sorts of interesting things. There is always such a warehouse it seems. Boeing has hundreds of them all over the pacific north west.

      And there are machinists still. Young ones. Not everything is built with 3D printers you know. The thing wouldn't be built from the memories of old geezers. Modern production methods could produce these cheaper faster and more precisely than what we had back then.

      I doubt it would take that long to spool that back up. Operational sub assembly lines in 4 to 5 years, and full assemblies in 7 to 10.

      A better page for the Saturn is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V [wikipedia.org] as it gives comparison capabilities.

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      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday August 11 2016, @01:03PM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday August 11 2016, @01:03PM (#386576) Journal

        I notice that even SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will fall far short of the Saturn V payload, although Mars Colonial Transporter may be able to beat it (Saturn V = 310,000 lbs to LEO, 107,100 lbs to "trans lunar injection", Mars Colonial Transporter = 100 tons to Mars).

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      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:53PM

        by VLM (445) on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:53PM (#386621)

        Unfortunately it costs more to piecemeal redesign a half century old design where every piece has to be compatible with legacy systems than it costs to just make a new clean sheet system.

        Look at the onboard engine control computer, for example. You'd like to think a computer thats 1000000 times faster would be lighter, but its not like pressure vessels and coolants and connectors are smaller or lighter. In fact the "denser" source of heat might be harder to cool... Its just cheaper to redesign.

        Hydraulics would be a nightmare, the original engines did some weird funky stuff because the hydraulic system operated at a lower pressure than the engine chamber pressure so it bled chamber pressure to operate hydraulics after liftoff or some crazy stuff like that. Which works well because regulators are small and light. Back then a typical engine chamber pressure was 1000 psi and hydraulics were lower (maybe 500?) but that industry has really taken off and commercial airliners run 3000 now. We'd have to reinvent the entire aerospace hydraulics industry to make old fashioned 500 psi actuators. I mean you can run 3000 psi gear at 500 psi (mostly, although valves will be higher friction etc) but they'll be heaver than hell. Why not redesign to use cheap cheap cheap 2016 era COTS aerospace hydraulics and a modern pressurization system? Its gotta be cheaper than trying to re-enact an entire industy sector from 1960.

        • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:42PM

          by frojack (1554) on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:42PM (#386639) Journal

          But you see, they don't have to be compatible with legacy systems. Nobody is going to mate a saturn V with a lunar orbiter any more.

          The design of the sheet metal, ribs, mating collars, engines tankage, pumps don't have to interface with anything new. And making them (other than the engines) isn't particularly hard.

          Computers? Yeah. Start from scratch.

          And these rockets are a lot simpler than the car in your driveway.

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        • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Saturday August 13 2016, @04:55AM

          by mhajicek (51) on Saturday August 13 2016, @04:55AM (#387388)

          I think all that stuff could be made noticeably lighter. Modern metallurgy, composites, and manufacturing techniques could significantly improve strength to weight ratios of a lot of components.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12 2016, @12:12AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 12 2016, @12:12AM (#386839)

        > Operational sub assembly lines in 4 to 5 years, and full assemblies in 7 to 10.

        Isn't this about the same amount of time as the Saturn V program took the first time around?
        I take your point that with modern processes & machinery it will be much easier to make many of them...once the design is adapted for the new methods.

  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:38AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 11 2016, @04:38AM (#386508)

    And they are doing a lot to progress space technology contrary to

    If we never get off Earth it will be due to the soul-sucking 1%ers and the legions of B-Ark space-cadets. On that basis, we deserve to not get anywhere

    One could even argue that space technology has progressed so slowly precisely because it has not been commercialized, a central point in one of Dan Brown's books Deception Point.

  • (Score: 2) by richtopia on Thursday August 11 2016, @01:48PM

    by richtopia (3160) on Thursday August 11 2016, @01:48PM (#386589) Homepage Journal

    After glancing over the description, it looks like his plan hinges on an earth orbit rendezvous. This was one of the potential mission plans for the original Apollo program.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program#Choosing_a_mission_mode [wikipedia.org]

  • (Score: 2) by EQ on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:21PM

    by EQ (1716) on Thursday August 11 2016, @03:21PM (#386614)

    Earth Orbit is a logical step if you aren't in some sort of a "race" to get there first; establishing a lasting and productive base is a nearly completely different task. Find a goof delta-V efficient orbit that will help with the Hohmann transfer orbits on a regular basis, put a station there for resupply, and that's the starting point. Much of that can be done unmanned these days, which means more mass for fuel and supplies in the lifters. Put the transport to/from the moon in orbit with that station, and make them space-only, so no need for streamlining, etc = LEM-ish for the landers. Crew-rated payloads would generally launch by themselves and go to the station then return with the crew coming back. This would be the only aerodynamic stuff needed.

    Once that is set up, then moon base can start being set up from there. Eventually, a moon orbit smaller base would be wanted as a waystation, with all landers serving as shuttles to-from the moon for personnel and cargo, and cheaper lighter craft to transport cargo between the moon station and earth station.

    It will take decades. Frankly I do not see our "what have you done for me today" society as being capable of committing to such a long-term program.