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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 Immerman on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:47AM (2 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:47AM (#669866)

    Mars is *so* much easier for the crude ecosystem stuff though - unlimited water and CO2 on your doorstep is a HUGE advantage, giving you food, air, and building materials almost as fast as you can turn the last into more growing space (nanocellulose is incredible stuff - transparent, gas impermeable, and as strong as aluminum). Algae can breed REALLY quickly, and some are as much as 45% cellulose by weight.

    It wasn't until Musk's announcement that the BFR would be able to carry a substantial payload on a round trip to the Moon without refueling on the surface, that I began to come around. That simplifies and magnifies the early supply chain enough to overcome the near-total lack of accessible ecosystem resources. A self-sustaining moon colony would still be FAR more difficult to achieve, but even an Earth-dependent outpost would have far more to offer Earth (or at least Earth-based space programs), and the technologies developed along the way would mostly translate to an eventual Mars colony, while being able to be developed far more quickly thanks to the lower cost of the failures of more aggressive experimentation.

    Plus, the moon is much more amenable to space tourism, which is about as close to the stars as a nature-loving guy like myself cares to get. I might even be able to afford the trip sometime before I die. And all that easily-mined lunar regolith should also make for handy radiation shielding for orbital habitats decades before we can capture a fair-sized asteroid into orbit.

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  • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:59AM (1 child)

    by Gaaark (41) on Saturday April 21 2018, @01:59AM (#669891) Journal

    I look at it as, if you go to Mars and have just one slip up, rescue is 6-9ish months away.

    Go to the moon, build a base, work out all the kinks, build a rocket on the moon and you're half way there: less fuel needed to launch from the moon (or lunar orbit).

    On Mars, on kink and you could be toast (whereas the moon is hours/days/weeks away, rather than months).

    (Plus, build a rocket on the moon and you are less likely to get structural stress failure or 'loose tiles' to feck your mission up).

    I just have the feeling i don't want to be first to Mars: i think they will die.

    --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---
    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Saturday April 21 2018, @03:09AM

      by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 21 2018, @03:09AM (#669918)

      Nope - on Mars rescue is either waiting on the launch pad, or it's not coming. You need to refuel on the surface to take off - unless you have large fuel reserves but no rocket (why?) there'd be nothing Earth could do to help. Emergency resupply is 3-24 months away, depending on orbital alignment and how much your support base on Earth is willing to pay, but rescue is on you.

      And yeah, I suppose there's a few essential things that could go so wrong you couldn't fix them on your own, but not bad enough to keep you from surviving for a week. Probably a pretty short list though. Especially since it's mostly ecosystem failures that could kill you, and on Mars you've got all those raw materials to replace ecosystem as fast as your microbial bioslurry can breed - I would assume your "baseline" ecosystem would be microbial (with frozen backups) with more sophisticated/nonessential things growing in the resulting biomass - just like on Earth. Far more fault-tolerant that way.

      I really doubt we'll be building rockets on the moon though, not anytime in the next several decades anyway - you need a pretty sophisticated industrial base for that. At least for the sort of rocket that's efficient enough for interplanetary trips with a substantial payload. And it doesn't much matter where you launch from, you're going to want to refuel in orbit for an interplanetary voyage. Meanwhile, pretty much everything you're carrying is going to have to originate from Earth anyway as well - and landing on the moon and taking off again is going to be a lot riskier than just refueling from a couple more tankers in orbit. About the only thing the moon is likely to offer in the next several decades is fuel: hard to screw up, and can be made with equipment imported from Earth - unlike rockets where the manufacturing equipment tends to dramatically outweigh the rocket, especially since you need to produce the entire supply chain from local raw materials or it defeats the point.

      But yeah, the first few waves of Mars colonists are likely to have pretty high fatality rates. Moon colonists too for that matter, though maybe not quite as bad - at the very least there's a much better chance of medical evacuation for serious conditions. But that's pretty much always been the case for colonization - new locations bring new threats, and unless there's friendly natives willing to hold your hand through the adjustment period (and probably even then) a lot of people are going to die. (And if there *are* friendly natives, then it's not really colonization so much as immigration or conquest). That's why it's always the dreamers and malcontents in the first waves - those for whom the high likelyhood of an early grave is an acceptable price to pay for new horizons.