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posted by janrinok on Friday April 20 2018, @06:12PM   Printer-friendly
from the refried-space-beans dept.

NASA is going back to the Moon, perhaps permanently, as seen in a new road map (image):

Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.

"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.

While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.

To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:

  • Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
  • Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
  • Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
  • Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.

This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1


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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 20 2018, @11:51PM (4 children)

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Friday April 20 2018, @11:51PM (#669849) Journal

    and the effort to place a telescope on the Moon is always going to be greater than the effort to place a telescope in orbit.

    A telescope could be constructed on the ground using materials found there. []

    A radio telescope is also desirable: []

    Then you have proposals like this for next-generation space telescopes: []

    If you can make a telescope mirror out of cheap, light, foldable material, you could shoot for an aperture of 1,000 meters... or more

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  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:29AM (3 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:29AM (#669860)

    Materials are one thing - the high-tech industrial base to be able to do such incredibly precise work is quite another. The Hubble's primary mirror took around three years of work to produce, with easy access to all the resources they needed, and was STILL found to be flawed once it was in operation.

    Radio telescopes are more promising, as the mirror can be much cruder, but you still have the problem that you'd almost certainly want any lunar telescope to be located on the far side of the moon, while you'd want your early outposts to be on the near side.

    And of course, space telescopes still have the dramatic advantage of being able to point at one thing for a prolonged period of time, allowing much dimmer and finer details to be resolved, while Earth- or Moon-based telescopes are constantly rotating with their host planet.

    And if you can make a mirror out of cheap, light, foldable materials, you may as well do so on Earth - rather than first building the necessary industrial base on the Moon. Of course, once the industrial capacity is built out for other purposes, then it should be possible to launch a considerably larger space telescope from the moon using the same launch vehicle, so it may be worth re-visiting the idea.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:39AM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:39AM (#669865) Journal

      The Hubble's primary mirror took around three years of work to produce

      We need the equivalent of constructing mirrors out of saran wrap. Hubble's fuckup was fixed using corrective optics. Maybe it's better to make a less precise but huge 1000+ meter series of mirrors and just fix any aberrations using instruments. Remember, one idea for a future space telescope essentially uses a cloud of confetti/dust organized by lasers [].

      NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program is funding the second phase of the “orbiting rainbows” project that attempts to combine space optics and “smart dust,” or autonomous robotic system technology. The smart dust is made of a photo-polymer, or a light-sensitive plastic, covered with a metallic coating.

      The photo-polymer with coating sounds like a thin and light alternative to carefully crafted mirrors, even if we can't do the smart dust w/ lasers concept yet.

      Also: Caltech Replaces Lenses With Ultra-Thin Optical Phased Array []

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      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:15AM (1 child)

        by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:15AM (#669878)

        Unfortunately, being able to produce half the required technology is exactly as useful as being unable to produce any of it. It's fun to speculate about long-term future possibilities, but making mostly unrelated resource-allocation decisions based on viable sounding ideas is generally a bad idea. Still waiting for those carbon fiber maglev flywheels that were supposed to replace batteries 20 years ago for electric cars and hospital backup power. Ditto the holographic computer storage that was just around the corner in the mid-90s.

        Not that I don't think such ideas are wonderful - for example I think spin-stabilized "mylar" (or better) parabolic orbital mirrors are a WONDERFUL idea - but one that will be incredibly useful for solar power long before they're refined enough to be a viable telescope mirror. It's a lot easier to say "fix any aberrations with instruments" than it is to actually do so. Heck, now that MIT supposedly has mass-producing graphene worked out, maybe we can put a few atoms worth of reflective coating on the stuff and spin it so hard the aberrations become predictable.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:28AM

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {}> on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:28AM (#669883) Journal

          I didn't say it would happen soon. But people have to come up with these ideas before they can be made into a reality. NIAC [] is a good platform for that.

          LUVOIR [] is in the pipeline and would probably have a 12 meter aperture.

          One good thing is that with new launchers like BFR, we can make bulkier (up to 150 ton) telescopes that use cheaper (not ultra lightweight) materials. This could allow bigger apertures and lower-than-JWST costs, with no magic space dust.

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