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Yeah, after 50 years maybe a different approach is needed.
I don't how Orion and Dragon in their current designs would do it, but with multiple launches of Falcon Heavy-sized vehicles following either the Mars Direct, or Mars Semi-Direct mission profiles would establish the ecosystem.
Right, and 18 years since The Case for Mars was published, the chemical factory has yet to fly and it's still without precedent. It's without precedent because there's a lack of vision at NASA. But since propellant production is step 1, of a 2-flight mission profile - you could do a dry run of Mars Direct, or NASA's Mars semi-direct with zero human risk. Whatever happened to the sample return mission that was supposed to test in-situ resource development? Still on the shelf. Thank goodness we're doing Curiosity 2.0, right?
Mining asteroids is a skill that at some point, we may need. At the current rate of development though, it's hundreds of years away. Mars can be done with today's technology. And while it may not be the only destination worth studying in space, it's certainly the closest and most achievable without massive technology improvements.
... He changes his cost estimate based on whatever seems politically expedient at the moment. There's a good reason why he's ignored by real decision makers. I don't know why you hold him and his plan on such a high pedestal.
His cost models have been pretty consistent over the past two decades, with updates to them that appear to incorporate improvements in technology, particularly changes in launch economics. His contributions to Senate hearings on the future of space exploration suggests that leadership places some value his perspective, even if they lack the backbone to actually do anything. If you've ever watched any of his presentations, or discussions it's pretty clear that he's an Engineer at heart and lacks, say... Elon Musk's charisma.
I think it's just because he's telling you want you want to hear.
As opposed to a NASA that spent 30 years on a space shuttle that they threw away, and are now replacing it with SLS that resembles Apollo? Or a NASA that's spent $150 billion on a space station with a questionable future? Or the NASA that can't sustain focus and vision to lead it beyond the next election? Yeah, I'd much prefer Zubrin's Mars Direct that's taken all of NASA's real limitations into account.
Just because he didn't say what you wanted to hear doesn't mean he didn't answer your question. He did answer your question - with the cold sober truth. He correctly identified the bits that matter, and the bits that are handwaving window dressing and addressed the former while ignoring the latter.
He correctly identified that there's risk inherit in space exploration, while completely bypassing the Mars Direct work. There's risk, in space exploration - yes. Understood. Got that. But hand-waving away 20 years of Mars Direct work isn't really an answer, is it?
Zubrin's plans are... more than a little optimistic. (In particular he doesn't have a firm grasp on the difference between speculative laboratory proof-of-concept experiments and actual developed technology. His plan relies heavily on treating the former as the latter.) Musk? Musk is irrelevant. Musk is playing to the fanboy crowd, but don't look behind the curtain. There's nothing there but a pile of powerpoints and someday, maybe's.
20 years of detailed plans from a man who knowns NASA, knows the politics, and has a concrete and viable mission model (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Zubrin). Musk has done more to bring a manned Mars mission closer to reality than anyone else... e.g. Falcon Heavy.
I think you represent what's wrong with space fandom, geekdom, and advocacy today.
Thanks for the meaningful contribution to the discussion. I think you, and the people like you that expect the American taxpayer to foot the bill for decades of investment, without a coherent vision are precisely what's wrong with NASA's leadership today. I'm not sure what "fandom", or "geekdom" are, but I'll leave those to you to ponder further.
In the first place, you completely fail to grasp that it is not NASA's role to provide leadership - they're a part of the Executive Branch, and their job is to carry out the policies of the Administration within the bounds of the budget as set by Congress. No more, no less. If NASA had it's way, we might have landed on the Moon by the Bicentennial. Or maybe not. Their plans were vague at best. Then Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and LBJ pushed the moon program as a monument to Kennedy. Which momentum didn't last all that long... by '66/'67 Congress was swinging the budget axe, and by '69 the program was running mostly on fumes and force of habit. (which is something else fandom, geekdom, and advocacy have failed to grasp for nearly a half century - just how unique the alignment of circumstances was that propelled Apollo and just how short lived support actually was.)
On the contrary, I'm all too familiar with NASA's role, both in the Apollo era and as well as now. Their job is to carry out the - utter lack of - vision set by the Executive Branch. Appalling leadership today, just has it's been since about the Kennedy era. Except for a brief shining moment, the Executive branch really really hasn't been all that interested in space. And NASA's atrocious leadership is a reflection the poor executive leadership. George W. Bush came the closest to doing something meaningful, until the War on Terror took over the budget.
But thanks for the closed-minded comments.
Second, in that you name check... but you complete fail to grasp the meaning of Dr Stone's answer - Mars is going to be very hard, and it's not visionaries and buzzwords that will get us there. It's technology, technology we don't have but are (as Dr Stone says) working on figuring out. By the time we can send men there, the probes will have done the advance scout work and identified the places and areas of research where men can make the real difference.
Oh, I grasp his comments. I just don't think he, nor anyone in any real position of leadership at NASA has the vision, or more importantly the risk tolerance to get us to Mars. Mars is going to be very hard. But a cohesive vision, with support that spans more than narrow 4-year windows of time is going to be critical to accomplishing anything big. Otherwise, we'll waste another 30 years saying a great deal, and spending as much, while accomplishing painfully little. Dr. Zurbrin has, at the very least, outlined the political, economic, and engineering, objectives. No hand-waving. No magic robots. No fundamentally new technology. No orbiting fuel depots. No asteroid rendezvous.
Mars is hard. But Mars, is not impossible.
Yeah, my notes on this topic have Dr. Zubrin quoting a Mars Direct designed without NASA's involvement to be $5 billion on the low-end, and $10 billion on the high-end. Or, if using NASA but following a Mars Direct mission profile... $50 billion.
Huge correction here... a "cheap" Mars Direct mission is only $5 billion. Not the $500 billion. Where did you get your numbers?
The Mars Direct plan features in-situ resource development. Right, finally... and thankfully, we don't need to haul everything from the surface of Earth! That "chemical factory" features a simple chemical process that we know works. That's been proven to work on Earth. And was outlined for application to Mars exploration 18 years ago in "The Case for Mars", by Dr. Zubrin. So saying there's no precedent for it, is a bit misleading. And if there's been zero funding set aside to study it yet... why not? Further... if that "chemical factory" doesn't work autonomously for 10-months, which there's no reason to expect it to fail - then we don't send people to Mars until it works. So, we'll know well in advance of sending a human crew if we're going to have propellant to return. But yeah, we should try it out on Mars. And time and time again, that mission model has been nixed from robotic missions. Case in point... we're doing Curiosity 2.0 now, featuring another MSL built from spare parts, and a few extra science packages. Where's the sample return mission? Or failing that, were's the proof of concept for that chemical factory? Nowhere.
All that having been said - what the heck are we doing mining an asteroid? How is that on the path-to-Mars? The short answer? It's not. I makes almost no sense. And the scientific community doesn't see much value.
But I do agree with one thing you said, taken out of context such as it is. A Mars mission is simply too ambitious for a risk averse political organization that has zero leadership. The technology isn't the problem - all of the pieces are there. There's less of a technological leap to get to Mars today, than there was the Moon 40 years ago. It's a rudderless NASA and a failure of leadership that's the problem.
On the contrary, a lack of focus is precisely the problem.
Hyper-focus got us to a real destination. The Moon. Successfully. Repeatedly.
And then we promptly abandoned the Saturn V ecosystem to craft an entirely new Space Transport System that featured an expensive space plane that looked cool, couldn't go anywhere expect LEO. So we built a space station to give it a destination. Yeah... finally, somewhere for STS to go. To the tune of $150 billion. Now we're abandoning the shuttle. Why? To produce the Space Launch System, which looks remarkably similar to the Saturn V, and like the Saturn V can go to destinations that we don't have to build - Mars, Moon, etc.
So after a 30-year deviation, we're going to maybe sometime soon have the launch capability that we had in the early 1970s. How is that progress? Looks more like a waste of 30 years of taxpayer dollars. How much more science could have been accomplished without the Shuttle and ISS?
NASA has great minds, and terrible leadership... two facts that have been true since Apollo ended.
Did you hit submit to early? Interesting link. Lack of content in the post.
While I appreciate Slashdot selecting my question (below), as well as Dr. Stone taking the time to respond, I'm disappointed that he ignored the entire Mars Direct (Dr. Zubrin) component of my question, and instead only responded peripherally to the core component of the question. Put different, I asked... "Why is a manned mission to Mars always 20 years away, and why is Mars Direct not ever discussed?". To which he basically said... "Manned Mars missions are too hard."... "You've played KSP... you know how far Mars is away... there's no hope for rescue. It's not like this is still the age of discovery... we're too risk averse to do anything like Christopher Columbus/etc. did.". In fairness, the second part of that is my take on his response. But in all seriousness, he's basically saying it's too hard, and too far away. At the same time, he's choosing to ignore the entire body of work that Dr. Zubrin (and now, Elon Musk is contributing to) which demonstrates that it is not too hard, nor too far away. Dr. Stone also neglected to mention that the Mars Direct mission approach has a built-in free return trajectory should something go wrong. Meaning, they'll get back to Earth if something goes wrong and they can't MOI.
I think Dr. Stone's Mars response is a great example of everything that's wrong with NASA. There's no leadership at NASA, and NASA is adrift (in the same manner Dr. Stone is afraid a manned mission to Mars would become adrift), and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
During each era of space exploration, going back to the mid-1970's, a manned mission to Mars has been "just 20 years away". At many points over the past 40 years, a variety of factors have converged ensure that a manned Mars mission remained just over the horizon. Even this past month, in NASA Chief Bolden's recent statements, Mars continues to be "just 20 years away", citing a need to stop at an Asteroid on the path to Mars", and budget constraints as reasons that a manned Mars mission remains an unrealized dream. Given Dr. Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct reference mission, and his more recent "transorbital railroad" concept combined with private industry, a manned Mars mission appears to be technically & economically viable — at least more so than at any point in the past 40 years. What's your assessment of Dr. Zubrin's Mars "ecosystem", as it pertains to a manned Mars mission during this 20-year time horizon?
Stone: Well, Mars, I think, is actually is being explored. It's a whole planet. You know, there's as much solid surface area on Mars as there is on Earth. And you can't imagine landing one place on the Earth and claiming to understand Earth as a planet. Once you leave Earth's orbit, it's whole different engineering problem and life is a different problem [out there] than it is in Earth orbit. The moon is in Earth orbit. When you're in Earth orbit, you can get help and you can get home. When you're in the solar orbit, you can't get any help and you can't get home. So, it's a much more challenging activity. And that's the reason it's going to take some time before that's realized. But it's taking the steps to learn how to do it that is important.
Check out Dr. Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct reference mission for a low cost, sustainable manned Mars program that doesn't require any technological breakthroughs.
During each era of space exploration, going back to the mid-1970's, a manned mission to Mars has been "just 20 years away". At many points over the past 40 years, a variety of factors have converged ensure that a manned Mars mission remained just over the horizon. Even this past month, in NASA Chief Bolden's recent statements, Mars continues to be "just 20 years away", citing a need to stop at an Asteroid on the path to Mars", and budget constraints as reasons that a manned Mars mission remains an unrealized dream. Given Dr. Robert Zubrin's Mars Direct reference mission, and his more recent "transorbital railroad" concept combined with private industry, a manned Mars mission appears to be technically & economically viable - at least more so than at any point in the past 40 years. What's your assessment of Dr. Zubrin's Mars "ecosystem", as it pertains to a manned Mars mission during this 20-year time horizon?
I disagree. Here's why... we have about 35 years of experience in sending probes to Mars. That's the collective investment of multiple generations of minds, congressional budgets , and political capital. We have 20+ years of a shuttle program stuck in LEO "helping us build the knowledge to go to Mars". And we're going to have another 20+ years on an "international" space station, also stuck in LEO. Now we're building a 1960's-era capsule, and a new space launch system to put us back on track where we were in the early 1970's. All so that we can spend yet another 20-years floating around an Asteroid... a destination that we're going to contrive... for the sole purpose of "learning what we'll need when we get to Mars". When you actually do the comparison though... it's infinitely more experience to literally spend generations of human potential preparing to maybe, someday go to Mars - than to just commit to it. It would be far... far less experience to just go to Mar. To go now. To go with existing technology. You know, something along the lines of what Robert Zubrin purposed in the mid-1990's... the Mars Direct program.
Humans on Mars is the dream, and the future of mankind. Humans stuck in the Earth-Moon system is the nightmare reality that poor leadership with no vision have thrust upon us.