August 7 2012, 09:51:03 AM
Human Space Exploration: The Moon, Mars or niether?
Early enough in most of our lives we reached pretty important milestones in our own understanding of the universe. For me realising that space travel was possible, that we had visited the moon, and that we where still sending people to space was a highly inspirational facet of my earily childhood.
For a while, not only did I take the idea that it would continue for granted, I expected lunar bases, NERVA rockets to mars and Jovian gas harvesting by the end of my life time.
However, my early enthusiasm was tempered by the knowledge of just how far away everything was, the laws of relativity and politics. A trip to anywhere important would be ponderous, expensive and hazardous; what I hoped would be possible within decades, now seems centuries away.
However, not all is so gloomy, we leave in a reality wherein unmanned exporation is going off in a big way, from new horizons to due fly past pluto in 2014, to comercial space travel and asteriod prospecting finally beinging to take off. We have developing nations sending humans into space with China, and possibliy Russia looking towards the moon by the end of the next decade and we now at least, have the material science brake throughs to build space elevators, working early versions of drives that could propel interplanetary probes between worlds within weeks instead of months.
With the recent sucessful landing of Curiousity, we are seeing the convergance of social media and crowd funding appearing at least, to challenge the way things are and empower the people who are willing to fight, vote, and pay for big things to happen.
So, it's in this context, I ask what should be human exporation goal be for our generation if you had the opportunity to directly fund a mission, and why?
Last edited by Pattern; August 7 2012 at 09:56:53 AM.
August 7 2012, 09:59:41 AM
Moon, Mars, Asteroids; because we can, because it's hard, because it's cool, because it forces smart men to do smart things which will create smart results for the rest of us back on Earth. Ultimately, they should succeed in expanding the global economy's sphere of economic influence into the rest of the solar system. It's impractical, it's a little absurd, but it's too damn cool not to do. Nothing good will ever happen if nobody is willing to do something impractical in space.
August 7 2012, 10:02:48 AM
Which would you prioritise? Which one would you directly fund (first?)
August 7 2012, 10:20:18 AM
Bonus question, how much would you personally be perpared to pay for your mission of choice?
August 7 2012, 10:27:27 AM
I think prospecting for minerals and resources is a good first step. It would be good to establish what materials out there can be used as we could then look at the possibility of building some kind of orbital shipyard. If we could build spacecraft in space, this would, in the long-term, reduce a lot of the cost and risk of launching spacecraft and would also enable more innovative design that's not limited by the payload constraints of current launch vehicles.
August 7 2012, 10:32:13 AM
Realistically, budget is a smaller problem than the bureaucratic morass that has bogged down the agency in procedure and cyclical starts and stops on the whims of a Congress that is firmly divided into two camps: those who want to reduce NASA's budget so they can tell their constituents that they shrank the deficit, and those who want to increase NASA's budget so they can keep (or add more) jobs in their state. NASA has to battle with a shifting set of priorities with every election and every presidency; the most important thing to do right now, I think, is figure out how to improve NASA's autonomy without removing all accountability. I'm not sure how to strike the right balance there, let alone how to get the political inertia to make it happen.
August 7 2012, 10:34:23 AM
In this order:
Mineral mining from local near Earth asteroids.
Terra-formation of Venus with the intent of having colonies there.
Colonies on Mars.
The first one could be done quite fast and we are actually seeing some commercial interest in that.
Second one is hellowa lot trickier then any other since we are simply lacking the technology for it but in my opinion takes precedence over Mars since colonies on Mars will never be able to be outside domes since the planet is too small to have a suitable atmosphere.
Third one is a given if nothing else just for exploration of the red planet.
Id be willing to pay 100-500€ per each mission.
August 7 2012, 11:05:57 AM
That would be my pick as well.
Originally Posted by Zeekar
Mars is the "best" destination if we wanted to establish a colony, but I do not see a real point in doing so now. With the current technology a Mars colony would still be very far from self-sustained. It would require regular shipment of goods which it cannot manufactor. Meaning if earth would die for some reason (asteroid, superplague, ron paul becoming president) Mars would too.
Moon would be interesting if we need H3 for fusion, otherwise it is not really rich in resources. And if we want to mine it we can do so remotely, it is near enough to the earth to do so.
Asteroid belt or NEOs would be the areas where sending actual humans could be actually useful.
However, I would still say our resources would be better used for improving the basics of a later expansion. I.e. creating a real industry in the earths orbit, improving how we send stuff in orbit, etc. Going "Human Space Exploration" without that would be a bit like crossing the Atlantic in a row boat.
That is relative. Mars would keep bleeding atmosphere, if that is a problem or not depends how fast this bleeding is though. If we would only have to throw the mass of a new asteroid every year into the atmosphere to counter its bleeding effect it wouldn't be a major issue. If we would have to do that every day, on the other hand...
Originally Posted by Zeekar
Last edited by Aramendel; August 7 2012 at 11:10:59 AM.
August 7 2012, 11:16:15 AM
Seems to me the moon is the logical choice for a first kick at long-term off-planet habitation, if only because should shit go awry it's only a few days away to send the rescue party.
Originally Posted by Pattern
As for asteroid mining, the asteroid belt is (obviously lol) even further away than Mars, so would probably be the next step after the red planet. Any settlement in the belt, and you'd need a long-term settlement, would have to be self-sufficient; you can't realistically call home for help if something went awry.
The following paragraph is wack-ass sci-fi speculation.
In the long term, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are ideal (relatively speaking) for mining Helium-3, which is considered to be one of the best choices as fuel for fusion reactors because fusing it throws off a stray electron that can be directly captured. But that's a long way away. Ganymede would be a good spot for a stopover station; Europa would be nice if it had liquid water (and even pretty good for just ice), but IIRC Ganymede doesn't get as much nuking from Jupiter's radiation belts because it's farther away.
The moon also has some Helium-3, by the way.
(Please direct all sig +reps to Entrox)
August 7 2012, 11:24:31 AM
A manned sample-return mission to Mars would be great but it would need funding, probably best way to get both funding and experience and infrastructure at the same time would be mining asteroids and selling the minerals.
The problem with men is that they're soft and tend to die in hard vacuum, I'd say that any mission that you intend to do with humans can and should be done with robots first.
Gotta be a better use of public taxes than the F-35 so I'm all for it.
In regards to crowd sourcing... yes... but it probably wouldn't work quite the same way as kickstarter, projects involving hardware tend to run over-budget and over-time so it would be a bit tricky to actually deliver precisely what people would be donating for. I'm not really sure how that would work.
August 7 2012, 12:49:21 PM
Once you're out of the gravity well there's no point in going back. Asteroids all day every day.
August 7 2012, 02:00:07 PM
Originally Posted by Steph
A permanent moon habitat/station should be the first major goal. "Major" as in other projects shouldn't be stopped alltogether, keep sending out those Opportunities, Curiosities and the likes.
A moon station has so many advantages (i.e. easier assembling of heavy parts, less fuel needed to overcome gravity at launch etc.) for further exploration, it seems to be a no-bainer as the starter project.
A moon station also implies advancements in other (space exploration-)crucial technologies which would help us elsewhere, too. Think robot/automated cargo transport (moon-earth logistics), extra-planetary resource harvesting.
While having a human plant his foot on Mars (or other planets/moons) would be another historical highlight and I would really go crazy if it would happen in my lifetime, from a technological POV it's a silly waste of resources and time. The time it takes to construct a safe environment and the resources (=mass) needed to keep that fragile carbon-based, oxygen-breathing creature alive would be better spent on research/exploration equipment.
August 7 2012, 02:07:50 PM
Surely the problem is getting the fuel there in the first place no? No fossil fuels, which we're still highly reliant on for launches, and even in the lower gravity moon environment they would be needed. You'd spend a lot launching fuel to take to the moon, to then launch something else. Probably less efficient than just launching on Earth.
Originally Posted by Hel OWeen
August 7 2012, 02:37:17 PM
Moon as launch base is rather redundant. You can just use the Lagrange points in the earth/moon orbit for that. Which are better since zero launch costs and no gravity hindering construction. Moon offers no real resources besides (possibly) water and H3 (assuming we need it), but bringing that to a Lagrange point is cheaper than bringing *everything* to the moon. And launching it from there too.
August 7 2012, 02:41:55 PM
I'd like to see some kind of magnetic accelerator on the moon which use a nuke plant for power and disposable sleds for launches.
August 7 2012, 03:59:56 PM
Two answers here. For unmanned exploration we need to start using something from space. It's not about going anywhere or setting up a base or anything, we need a resource from space we can use for further exploration as a start in becoming self sufficient up there. As I've said unmanned I don't include water in this. If all we can find is iron or platinum from asteroids then we need to head towards using that. Even if it's inefficient compared to using materials on earth we'll have to mine, refine and use it to finish a satellite.
Originally Posted by Pattern
Second answer, the manned exploration, we need to know far more about ecology and for that we need to recreate the Biosphere II project. It was a bit of a farce in the end but understanding the details of an isolated ecosystem is an essential step in moving people anywhere to survive without just being supplied forever. So we have to build many biospheres on earth, sealed up, and experiment to find out how they work.
People aren't really needed in them, we just need large mammals and the ability to analyse them in detail without breaking the seal.
August 7 2012, 04:06:44 PM
i never understand this. why the moon? why not some kind of magnetic accelerator in free space? why involve the moon at all? there's nothing there that we can't get easier and cheaper from an asteroid. plus you can actually have earth-normal gravity in free space. living on the moon is almost certain to involve inordinate effort to avoid bone and muscle atrophy.
Originally Posted by FourFiftyFour
protip: water is rocket fuel.
Originally Posted by TheManFromDelmonte
August 7 2012, 04:42:38 PM
The first goal(s) would need to be earth based. Firstly establishing a better/cheaper way to get tonnage into space. Some kind of EM mass driver up the side of a mountain seems like a good choice, or maybe even aircraft deployed rockets. Having that initial velocity and also being a mile or two closer to space before having to kick in the rockets can definitely help out a lot with the payload to fuel ratio. Secondly would be some kind of biosphere style research. Use the lessons learned from the previous ones to do it better, and with several at once. It doesn't even need to achieve 100% self sufficiency either. They should aim for just limiting the amount of outside resources that are needed to sustain it. If you could make a lunar colony run for two years without needing a resupply, that's a lot better than one that can only go for 6 months.
First non-earth goal would be to establish an orbital structure with centrifugal gravity that could be staffed full time and eventually used as a base for missions to lunar colonies and such. And even if no one wants to make a lunar colony, at the least it can act as a research station and a cool landmark to use as a target for other privately build spacecraft. Maybe even design it with the idea of hosting some space tourists.
Realistically with the kind of funds I can expect to have available with a normal job, I would have no problem paying 25-50k for a few days trip to a space station. Now if I were a multi-billionare, I'd look into how much it would cost to build and maintain an orbital base that could be permanently lived in (being resupplied at intervals). If it looked like I could do it with my current funds, I'd dump everything I had into it, with the plan of living on the thing for as much of the rest of my life as possible. I would probably also look into letting other people buy into it and/or letting people pay to ride along on the resupply missions and visit to keep things interesting/help cover costs.
Originally Posted by Pattern
because of newton.
Originally Posted by elmicker
August 7 2012, 05:50:06 PM
You would still first have to counter the moons gravity. Also, a spacebased magnetic accelerator could counter the recoil by changing the direction of the next "shot" to counter the recoil from the first one. Also an advantage of a spacebound one, on the moon you will have a a lot smaller firing area.
Originally Posted by dpidcoe
August 7 2012, 07:07:41 PM
a fuel depot, or several of them.
would allow spacecraft to be launched fairly empty, to fuel up at the depot, then onto the rest of the solar system.