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posted by CoolHand on Monday April 17 2017, @04:17PM   Printer-friendly
from the future-vision dept.

It looks like NASA's stepping-stone to Mars will be a miniature space station in lunar orbit rather than a chunk of captured asteroid.

The agency plans to build an astronaut-tended "deep space gateway" in orbit around the moon during the first few missions of the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule, which are scheduled to fly together for the first time in late 2018, NASA officials said.

"I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C, said in a statement. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier added.

One of those "other destinations" is Mars. NASA is working to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, as directed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. For the last few years, the agency's envisioned "Journey to Mars" campaign has included the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an effort to pluck a boulder from a near-Earth asteroid and drag the rock to lunar orbit, where it could be visited by astronauts aboard Orion.

But ARM's future looks bleak; President Donald Trump provided no money for the mission in his proposed 2018 federal budget, which the White House released earlier this month.

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  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @07:03PM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @07:03PM (#495427)

    When I first heard about this news some time back I got genuinely excited. Then I read the actual details. The moment I read "SLS", my shoulders slumped.

    I feel bad for NASA, I really do. There is not even a chance this will ever come to be. The SLS is essentially a giant pork project which they're legally obligated to back whether or not they want to. It was started in 2010 and was initially planned to have its first flight in 2018. This article is a bit out of date and that figure will likely be pushed back to 2019 []. A recent audit found the SLS program, once again, to be over budget and unlikely to make their deadlines. We need to put these numbers into context. JFK's space speech was in 1962 - we'd achieved nothing more than having put a man into orbit. Nonetheless in 1969, 7 years later, a human would step foot on the moon. There had been a manned flyby of the moon in the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, 6 years later. The SLS program, by contrast, is aiming for an unmanned lunar flyby after 8 years and that will likely end up being 9 if not 10.

    The SLS is the F-35 of space. I couldn't care less about a jet fighter, but I genuinely care about space. SpaceX has recently announced a planned flight to send two private adventurers on a flight around the moon next year. They've managed to do this with exactly $0 of public funding dedicated towards this purpose. Assuming they achieve this mission, it will exemplify the problem. Frankly the fact they're even confident enough to announce this exemplifies the problem. We're not going to get to Mars with Boeing and Lockheed - period. These companies are driven solely by profit. Give them a fat exclusive contract and they're going to drag it out as long as they can for as much as they can. SpaceX is driven by a goal and the talent to bring that goal to life. If we want to make progress, we need to start aligning ourselves with companies ideologically invested in that progress.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @07:48PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @07:48PM (#495450)

    They've managed to do this with exactly $0 of public funding dedicated towards this purpose.

    They've managed nothing so far but to announce the goal. Also, they expect the "adventurers" to pay a lot of money for the "privilege".

    Maybe they haven't taken in any money for this specific purpose, but they have some large contracts, some from public funds, that can cover a lot of personnel and facility overhead as well.

    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday April 17 2017, @09:18PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 17 2017, @09:18PM (#495507) Journal

      SpaceX is not taking in public money to develop some of its grand goals. It is doing that with it's own profits. Now those profits are in large part from NASA contracts. But those are commercial contracts for services in exchange for money. It's not like NASA is paying for development or construction work. Also in part those profits funding the grandiose plans come from other commercial launch services customers. Iridium, for example, has, what is it, I think eight more launches scheduled with SpaceX?

      As for doing nothing but announcing goals, I would say that SpaceX landing a booster stage isn't exactly nothing. ULA said it was impossible. The Russians said it was a fantasy. Elon Musk said he wasn't even sure if they would ever be able to do it. And SpaceX failed the first several attempts. It was looking like it might not be possible. And then they succeeded at landing. Then landing on a drone ship. Then more successful landings until it's almost routine.

      I also wouldn't call re-launching a booster with the same nine engines to be exactly nothing either. On an orbital booster. Nobody else has done that. And only one other company has done re-use, with a non-orbital booster.

      I find SpaceX's 3D printed Draco engines to be impressive.

      I am interested in the Dragon 2 capsule SpaceX has developed. Also when they tested its launch abort system (Draco engines).

      I wouldn't say SpaceX has done nothing but announce. If you go further back in time, it wasn't even clear if their Falcon 9 was going to work at all. They took a huge risk. Almost failed.

      But I think the lesson is this.

      When you set out to do something bold, innovative and challenging. Something that you, yourself, are not even sure can be made to work. The risk is high. The task is difficult.

      The important point is that you might possibly fail.

      Therefore, you should not ever try. Ever. Just don't bother.

      This message brought to you by SpaceX's competitors.

      Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Monday April 17 2017, @09:26PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Monday April 17 2017, @09:26PM (#495514) Journal

        I think the take home of SpaceX is that solid engineering, bold goals and good corporate culture is perhaps more important than the most money. I would almost bet that any no-say, can't do, paper wending bureaucrat have hard time at SpaceX, in fact they won't even let them inside their doors.

        Almost like IBM vs Apple, Microsoft vs Free OS etc.

  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Monday April 17 2017, @09:07PM

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 17 2017, @09:07PM (#495499) Journal

    The moment I read "SLS", my shoulders slumped.

    Yep. Me too.

    Back in March, I visited Kennedy Space Center on a day that fell between a week long cruise and a week at Disney World to recover from the cruise.

    At the end of the day as my friend and I left, I remarked that it was like Londo Mollari when he said "a thousand monuments to past glory".

    Basically it was half about Apollo, and half about the Shuttle program. And I don't mean to downplay either of those programs nor the amazing things accomplished in the entire moon program.

    But there was a full scale Orion capsule. Can't remember now if it was an early build or a mockup. (too many lines of code ago) There was also the stand being constructed for SLS launches. What a colossal waste of money.

    Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday April 17 2017, @09:40PM (1 child)

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Monday April 17 2017, @09:40PM (#495530) Journal

    If it wasn't for NASA $$$, SpaceX would not exist. It's not just due to the fact that SpaceX built upon existing NASA technologies. NASA is SpaceX's biggest customer, and SpaceX leases existing NASA facilities.

    SpaceX is NASA's way of getting around the military-Congressional-pork-industrial complex. The NASA move towards supporting greater privatization of space activity and allowing companies to transport astronauts to the ISS ultimately undermines pork programs where the rocket parts are built in many states. SpaceX is too competitive to be ignored.

    It looks like Falcon Heavy [] will cost maybe 20% of what the SLS [] will cost per launch, with maybe half the payload. The Interplanetary Transport System [] would grind SLS into dust by comparison (as currently planned, and assuming it does get built).

    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 []
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 18 2017, @06:38AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 18 2017, @06:38AM (#495715)

      Absolutely. My issue is not with NASA. NASA is an incredible agency that has and will continue to play a major (even if supporting) role in space. As mentioned they have no option whether or not to develop the SLS, and due to the petty nature of pork barrel politics they're also required to 'push' the SLS as well unless they want to see a sharp cut to their funding. Within the next let's say 5 years, I think it's very safe to say that the SLS program will be cancelled. But before it's all said and done - tens of billions of dollars will have been wasted on it. We've already spent about $10 billion on it. For contrast the entire expected cost to develop and build SpaceX's Interplanetary Transport System, is about $10 billion.

      It's just so frustrating to see so much money being completely wasted and false promises being obligatorily made all because of political pettiness.