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    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.181)
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/17/AR2009071702018.html

    Kim Stanley Robinson on the future of space travel.
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      CommentAuthorAlan Tyson
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.182)
    @Oddcult: That shuttle idea, while the problems with it have been pointed out, isn't a bad one at all. I wonder if there's a way to create a sort of "docking ring" on the ISS that would hold four or so of them in orbit. We could send people and equipment up to the ISS in Ares rockets or whatever other multi-stage design we come up with by then, send the astronauts from the ISS out on shuttles for satellite repair, more space station construction, whatever else we need it for. Heck, the Shuttle's technical name was the Orbiter - that's gotta mean something!

    @bjacques: "By all (later incorrect) accounts, the USSR had a moon rocket too, so it became a big stunt."

    That Soviet moon rocket is one of the saddest engineering stories in the entire history of human space exploration. The N1 was a pretty amazing design that was crippled practically in the womb - if the Soviets had had a better handle on things, or had anyone in their upper echelons actually been interested in getting to the moon at all, the Space Race might have actually been...you know...a RACE.

    @Mechanist: That makes a really good kind of sense. I wonder who got greedy, where...
    • CommentAuthorMechanist
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.183)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    @Artemis_of_OZ: I don't think it's that anyone got greedy persay. I think it was more once the soviets started falling apart and the cold war wound down everyone lost interest and companies didn't see any potential for profit. So NASA being the only ones with funding, staff and equipment just kept going and then expanded a bit.

    However now that they're outsourcing supply runs to the ISS we should hopefully start to see space industry taking off. It's that sort of thing not Branson's precious tourist flights that will get space colonised.
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      CommentAuthorstsparky
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.184)
    I meant real vehicles smaller than a dime with tiny sensors transmitting data driven by kids.
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      CommentAuthorstsparky
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.185)
    New NASA boss: Astronauts on Mars in his lifetime
    NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., who's 62, said his ultimate goal isn't just Mars - it's anywhere far from Earth.

    "I did grow up watching Buck Rogers, and Buck Rogers didn't stop at Mars," Bolden said in an interview with The Associated Press. "In my lifetime, I will be incredibly disappointed if we have not at least reached Mars."

    That appears to be a shift from the space policy set in motion by the Bush administration, which proposed first returning to the moon by 2020 and then eventually going to Mars a decade or two later. Bolden didn't rule out using the moon as a stepping stone to Mars and beyond. But he talked more about Mars than the moon as NASA was still celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing.

    Bolden said NASA and other federal officials had too many conflicting views about how to get to Mars, including the existing Constellation project begun under President George W. Bush. That project calls for returning to the moon first, with a moon rocket design that Bolden's predecessor called "Apollo on steroids." NASA has already spent $6.9 billion on that plan.

    "We cannot continue to survive on the path that we are on right now," Bolden told NASA employees in a televised speech earlier Tuesday.

    A new independent commission is reviewing that plan and alternatives to it.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.186)
    We've *reached* Mars, already. Why should people be keen on astronauts, on 'manned' missions? Can't you do far more (science, and travelling) without astronauts than you can with?
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.187)
    Fa, see my (poissbly unfair) comparison of the Luna and Apollo geology programs.

    The Apollo astronauts were able to talk back and forth with the geologists at mission command and exercised personal judgment. Some of the most valuable samples wouldn't have been found if not for the astronauts on the spot applying the gelogy they'd been taught earlier.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.188)
    I did see your comparison, and it's easy to understand the need for astronauts in 1969: give the state (or lack) of electronics, robotics, computer vision, AI, ...

    The Mars Rover, though: that was nifty, wasn't it? What could an astronaut do that the Rover couldn't (except die)? If we could send (and land) a much larger payload than that, wouldn't a much larger Rover be more informative than an astronaut and their life-support?
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      CommentAuthorstsparky
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009
     (5884.189)
    Luna's H^3 isn't going to dig itself - we need people there controlling worker drone robots. It's applied science ...

    Mars would be a whole new set of challenges that would hopefully get everyone here excited enough to beat together as a team. For instance - Mars lacks stable poles; Imagine if we could trick a Miranda-sized moon out of its' orbit to stabilize Mars' like Luna has us. In theory it could create a more Earthlike Mars.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 21st 2009 edited
     (5884.190)
    "The Mars Rover, though: that was nifty, wasn't it? What could an astronaut do that the Rover couldn't (except die)? "

    Travel at more than a couple of metres per hour.

    Climb two foot banks of more than 30 degrees.

    Use a shovel and spade and get farther below the surface in an hour than all the rovers have done to date.

    Pick up some of those layered possibly-sedimentary rocks, chip off samples and examine them under a microscope.

    Clear dust off a solar panel in a couple of seconds instead of spending weeks in an unsuccessful attempt to do so.
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      CommentAuthorrickiep00h
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.191)
    Also, a human being would be able to judge pretty well whether or not he might get permanently stuck in loose sand. And if he did get stuck, he could probably just call his partner to come help him. As it is now, the JPL's been trying to get Spirit unstuck for nearly three months. And it's only stuck a couple inches deep. (Personally, I'm just waiting for them to call it a day, and move on with only one rover...)

    Make no mistake, some people are smart enough, and insane enough, to strap themselves to a rocket and spend three months in space (one way) for a few hours worth of work on Mars. And in those few hours, they'd get more science done (rudimentary as it may be) than we'll ever do spending billions of dollars shooting specialized robots up there a half dozen times. Flexibility and ingenuity is the key.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.192)
    Yes, making it a *one-way* trip would obviously make for *enormous* savings.

    But even so, the Rover's mass is 175 kg. I'm guessing that a human life-support system (including temprature control and radiation shielding, air and food and water) for several months of space travel would be quite a bit more than that ... and that the Rover could be more powerful and capable if it were allowed to weigh that much more: strong enough to use a shovel and spade, able to use a microscope, etc.

    Actually, apparently this is already scheduled: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory
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      CommentAuthorrickiep00h
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.193)
    I wasn't saying "make it a one-way trip." I was saying it's a long trip, just one-way. I was implying that a two-way trip would be even longer. And that some people are up to that sort of thing. Apologies if that wasn't clear.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.194)
    The point's already been made, but if you had the weight capacity that would be required to get humans to and off of Mars, and applied that to robots, they'd be far, far more capable than a person would.
    • CommentAuthorFan
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.195)
    I'm guessing it's politics/public relations: the idea that the public and/or the mass media won't approve unless there is a 'human interest' angle.

    Incidentally, at the end of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory#Landing_system it says, "The planned 'sky crane' powered descent landing system has never been used in actual missions before." I find it amazing that they have the audacity to attempt it: that they have any belief that they might succeed.

    Landing rockets on an airless moon is one thing (relatively easy to calculate), but parachutes etc. need experimentation to get right (their behaviour is too complicated to calculate precisely). NASA's software engineering (to name just one aspect of NASA) is legendary among programmers for its being careful; and apart from the software, with so many *things* to go wrong it just amazes me that they've been so successful. So much of life, engineering, manufacturing, etc is about experiments being repeatable, learning from past failures, and driving the evolution of prototypes, whereas the space programs keep doing things which are unprecedented.
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.196)
    "I find it amazing that they have the audacity to attempt it: that they have any belief that they might succeed."

    You can't exactly replicate the conditions for trying it, without actually, you know... trying it. And if you're going to do that, you may as well stick a payload on there too anyway.
    • CommentAuthorMechanist
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.197)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    Robots are not going to be as capable as trained human feet on the ground. Not for a long time. I may only be an AI student but even I can tell you that one.
    They're just not adaptable enough yet and they can't make judgement calls or notice things by chance. Also humans are better on most terrain.

    A human can spend one day looking around for geological samples then spend the next day planting seismic sensors then set up a weather analysis kit and the next day start putting together a prefab habitat. A robot that could do all that would be way beyond current means or would just be plain too prone to breaking.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.198)
    We can hypthesize about the abilities of a future rover but here are some of the stats for the MSL:

    Once on the surface, the MSL rover will be able to roll over obstacles approaching 75 centimeters (30 in) in height. Maximum terrain-traverse speed is estimated to be 90 meters (300 ft) per hour via automatic navigation, however, average traverse speeds will likely be about 30 meters (98 ft) per hour, based on variables including power levels, difficulty of the terrain, slippage, and visibility. MSL is expected to traverse a minimum of 12 miles (19 km) in its two-year mission.[16]


    The MSL mission is currently budgeted at around $1.2 billion and years behind schedule.

    Personally I think NASA might be better off putting half a dozen more Sojourner-style rovers on various parts of the Martian surface - using a successful proven design - rather than constantly pushing the technological horizon.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.199)
    Personally I think NASA might be better off putting half a dozen more Sojourner-style rovers on various parts of the Martian surface - using a successful proven design - rather than constantly pushing the technological horizon.


    I have to agree with this. At this phase in technological development I think it's best to just stick with proven stuff, and update those designs to fix problems found along the way instead of building whole new systems.
    • CommentAuthorMechanist
    • CommentTimeJul 22nd 2009
     (5884.200)
    I'm having a time out until I can learn some manners.
    I can't agree with that. But thats because I want NASA to return to their original intent and stop with the crap they're doing now.

    Pushing the boundary then handing the data and tech over to civvy industry and saying "Well there you go guys crack on"