World War II amphibious landing

The head of the NASA Astronaut Office, US Air Force Colonel Robert Behnken, has weighed in on one-way missions to Mars.

In an article by Todd Halvorson of Florida Today, Col. Behnken said, “The one-way mission to Mars is not one I would see the Astronaut Office having a line of people signing up for.

“I think across the board the one-way mission needs to have a very high reward aspect to it: the national objective sort of award. There are many things we do in wartime situations, that we ask people to step up and accomplish for us. We need that level of reasoning from the Astronaut Office perspective.”

This reasoning is not surprising from a professional military officer, but it ignores thousands of years of human history. Human beings undertake one-way trips (what the military calls “missions”) all the time. Most of these trips are not in response to a military emergency. More commonly, they are undertaken because an individual human being or family decides to move to a new location with no intention of returning.

The settlers on the Mayflower were on a one-way mission. So were the settlers who opened the American West. Many died along the way, but no one regarded it as the equivalent of a military suicide mission.

These one-way trips were not, in general, undertaken as the result of a “national objective.” There have been forced government relocations (unfortunately), and of course, the government relocates military personnel all the time — but military relocations are usually temporary. More often, one-way trips are undertaken to meet personal or family objectives, rather than national objectives.

Connestoga wagon

NASA was created during the Cold War, for Cold War propaganda purposes. President Eisenhower wanted a civilian space agency to show the world our peaceful intent and to take the manned space program away from the military-industrial complex, which he distrusted. Ironically, he created a new NASA-industrial complex with many of the same characteristics. When President Kennedy took office, NASA’s role was greatly expanded. Eisenhower did not want a space race, which he perceived would soon rival the arms race in terms of expense. Kennedy wanted to confront the Soviets in space to show that our private-enterprise system was better than their socialist system. Kennedy never allowed private enterprise to play any significant role in Project Apollo, however. Instead, Apollo merely proved that our socialists were better than their socialists.

The Cold War is over, but Cold War reasoning remains. Remnants can be seen in Col. Behnken’s statement about “national objectives.”

NASA and other space-policy planners need to move away from “wartime reasoning” to peacetime reasoning. There is no justification for spending tens of billions of dollars to send humans to Mars, unless humans are going to permanently settle on Mars. There is no justification for spending billions of dollars to send unmanned probes to Mars, unless humans are going to follow.

The settlement of Mars (and space, in general) will entail a large number of one-way missions, by definition. Settling a new territory means people setting out on one-way trips, building new homes, and creating new lives for themselves in a new land.

Space settlement will not be accomplished as a “national objective.” If NASA tries, it will fail. History provides a useful comparison. Spain set out to colonize the New World as a national objective, under the direction and control of the Spanish Crown. Great Britain took a laissez faire approach to colonization, granting charters to private groups such as the Virginia and Plymouth companies. Spain controlled the most desirable portions of the New World, with most of the resources and milder climate. Yet, it was North America, under British control, that prospered, while the centrally planned Spanish colonies remained backward.

Colonel Behnken is correct in saying that NASA cannot undertake arduous missions except in pursuit of a national objective. NASA is the product of intelligent design. Its creators, Eisenhower and Kennedy, put that into the agency’s DNA. But not everyone has that limitation. While NASA may play a role in space settlement, it will not play the primary role.

The NASA Astronaut Office may not have a long line of people willing to sign up for one-way trips to Mars, but there are people who will line up for it. Mars One is taking in a tidy bit of money from people who are willing to pay, just to have their names on a list of possible candidates. We must stop thinking of space solely in terms of NASA. It is time to move beyond Cold War reasoning.

Written by Astro1 on September 22nd, 2013 , Space Settlement

“The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” — Tom Wolfe, 1985

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Red Dragon capsule landing on Mars

Last year, there were rumors that Space Exploration Technologies would soon conduct an initial public stock offering (IPO). If there was any truth to those rumors, those plans have apparently been put on the shelf. Any IPO plans are long-term and tied to Mars settlement, according to today’s tweet from SpaceX founder Elon Musk:

No near term plans to IPO SpaceX. Only possible in very long term when Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly.

Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Space Settlement, SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Red Dragon capsule landing on Mars

Statements made at the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach raise new questions about the Mars One project.

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Written by Astro1 on May 23rd, 2013 , Space Settlement

As we move from short-duration stays in space to long-duration expeditions to permanent settlement, human factors become more important. In the early days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, NASA was more concerned with providing basic nutrition than making food palatable. The food supplied to astronauts aboard ISS is much improved, but no one would mistake it for gourmet or home cooking.

As space travel becomes more routine, space cuisine will no doubt become more elaborate and more closely resemble the meals humans are used to on Earth. In this short film, a French animator gives his take on what space settlers might like to see.

Written by Astro1 on December 22nd, 2012 , Space Settlement

NASA Mars Sample Return MissionThe outgoing executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics has cast doubt on one of NASA’s most coveted planetary-science missions.

Speaking at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight on Wednesday, Major General Rocket Dickman (USAF-ret.) expressed skepticism about NASA’s ability to sustain Congressional support for a a $10-billion, 15-year Mars Sample Return mission.

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Written by Astro1 on October 18th, 2012 , Space Policy and Management, Space Settlement

asteroid

Leonard David has written a column about new Federal regulations governing meteorite collection on public land. Reading the column, we spotted one quote that raised a red flag:

“We tried to account for every kind of occurrence out there,” said Lucia Kuizon, national paleontologist at the [Bureau of Land Management] in Washington, DC. “We felt the policy helps the public understand the issues, as well as for our own resource specialists out in the field when they get inquiries.”

Wait a minute? Meteorites are not fossils. Why is a paleontologist issuing statements about them? What’s going on here?

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Written by Astro1 on October 12th, 2012 , Space Policy and Management, Space Settlement

We recently posted some observations from the second annual 100 Year Starship Symposium, which took place in Houston last month. Since that time, several people have asked us for our thoughts on how the 100 Year Starship Initiative ought to proceed.

We’ve been reluctant to offer any advice, due to the sheer enormity of the task which DARPA laid out for the initiative. Developing the technology to build and launch a starship in 100 years is an unprecedented challenge, which greatly exceeds any previous engineering project in both scope and duration. There are no precedents for the management of such a project.

After some reflection, however, one thing seems obvious to us. It is highly unlikely that the first starship will be built by NASA, DARPA, the 100 Year Starship Initiative, or any other Earth-bound institution.

The people who design and build the starship will almost certainly be living in space, with access to resources greatly exceeding those available to us on Earth and technologies beyond our current understanding.

Therefore, the most important thing the 100 Year Starship Initiative can do is to support near-term steps that will enable large numbers of people to move out into space, on a permanent basis.

Written by Astro1 on October 3rd, 2012 , Space Settlement

A recent paper on the Toxicity of Lunar Dust highlights one of the problems that need to be solved for long-term space settlement.

NASA’s been studying the dangers of dust for some time.  The primary concern with lunar dust is silicosis, a condition which occurs when fine particles become embedded deep within the alveolar sacs and ducts where oxygen and carbon dioxide gases are exchanged. Other parts of the body may also be affected. The lunar dust is so fine that particles can pass through the capillaries and into the blood stream, making their way to vital organs including the heart, liver, and brain. The body’s immune systems are largely helpless against the dust particles, which are so sharp that white blood cells are destroyed when they attempt to engulf them.

Even if dust is not inhaled, it can still cause skin and eye irritations.

While lunar dust is primarily a mechanical irritant, Martian dust is expected to be both an irritant and a chemical poison. The Martian regolith may be a strong oxidizer comparable to undiluted lye or bleach, capable of burning human skin. Dust storms and static electricity may create hydrogen peroxide that falls to the surface as corrosive snow. If that wasn’t bad enough, the dust has also been found to contain trace amounts of toxic metals including arsenic and hexavalent chromium.

NASA is working on ways to mitigate these hazards. The solution will no doubt involve extreme attention to cleanliness and strict isolation from the lunar/Martian environment. Nevertheless, accidents will still happen from time to time.

As we learn more about the toxicity problem, perhaps it’s time to revisit the question which Princeton professor Gerard K. O’Neill asked in 1969: “Is a planetary surface the right place for an expanding technological civilization?” After examining the problems of energy, gravity, and resources, Dr. O’Neill concluded that artificial structures (very large space stations) were a more logical location for long-term space colonization. His ideas were popularized in the book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Perhaps the Moon and Mars will be developed as mining sites and research bases, while the real settlements are built in free space.

"Stanford Torus" space colony under construction

Written by Astro1 on September 6th, 2012 , Space Medicine and Safety, Space Settlement

A Mars sample-return mission has long been the holy grail of NASA’s unmanned science program. Given the publicity surrounding the successful landing of the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory, it isn’t surprising that calls are once again emerging for such a mission, whose cost is estimated at $5 to $10 billion – two to four times the cost of Curiosity.

There is little chane of such a megamission being approved in the current economic environment. That may be just as well. From a space policy viewpoint, the proposed sample-return mission offers a poor return on investment.

The proposed mission would return about one pound of Martian surface material to Earth – a meager bonanza considering the cost.

For that same $5-10 billion, we could send a human expedition to Mars. To get the cost down to that level, it would have to be a one-way mission.  Burt Rutan and others have advocated such missions in the past. NASA does not discuss such unconventional concepts publicly, but sources close to the astronaut office tell us there is a great deal of private interest.

The tradeoff, in this case, seems to clearly favor the human expedition. Instead of ounces of Martian rocks  in Earthbound laboratories, geologists would have the opportunity to study tons of Martian rocks in situ, while simultaneously establishing a new colony for humanity on another world. All it requires is courage and vision. There’s scant sign of such qualities among the invertebrate political classes of Washington DC, but the real America outside the Beltway hasn’t lost the pioneer spirit. Elon Musk may attempt such a mission sooner than anyone expects. The question is whether NASA can realign itself to assume a supporting role or  lapse into irrelevance.

Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2012 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management, Space Settlement

The DARPA-funded 100 Year Starship Initiative is holding a Public Symposium in Houston, Texas on September 13-15, 2012.

On a somewhat related note, there’s new data suggesting that exoplanet Gliese 581g may be the best candidate for a habitable planet so far. This brings the number of potential habitable planets discovered by scientists up to five, according to a recent press release by the Planet Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico.

Habitable Planets

The discovery of habitable planets beyond our solar system presents NASA with a once-in-an-organizational-lifetime opportunity.

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Written by Astro1 on July 27th, 2012 , Space Settlement

The Space Studies Institute has announced The Great Enterprise Initiative, a research and development project to advance the permanent human settlement of space.

Details were announced April 13 by SSI president Gary Hudson speaking at the Space Access 2012 conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Great Enterprise Initiative includes the develop of two laboratory facilities aimed at advancing critical technology and science for long-term human residence in space.

One of the laboratories will be terrestrially based. E-Lab’s mission will be to prove out the closed-cycle environmental systems necessary for long-term space habitats. The focus will not be on developing individual systems but integrating a full-scale “system of systems” to support life for years on end? E-Lab will probably located at Mojave Air and Space Port, although the final location will be dependent on donor interests.

The other laboratory will be ina space, coorbital with (but not physically attached to) the International Space Station. G-Lab will explore the unanswered question of what level of gravity is necessary for long-term health and biological development. Currently, the only data points are from Earth (1 g) and orbital missions (0 g). Apollo missions to the Moon were too short to provide meaningful data. The shape of the curves between those two data points is currently pure speculation. G-Lab will be orbiting centrifuge facility designed to fill in some of the missing intermediate data points. This information is crucial for the design of future space habitats as well as long-duration deep-space exploration missions.
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G-Lab might have a permanent crew of scientists, like ISS, or it might be human tended. Details will on the results diet future design studies and the success of fundraising efforts. Development schedule also depends on the success of SSI fundraising. In the best case, G-Lab could be in orbit by 2017

For more details, see the Space Studies Institute website.

Written by Astro1 on April 15th, 2012 , Space Settlement

L5 is an episodic video production being released on the Internet.  The first episode looks very good. This appears to be “hard” science fiction – no violation of the laws of physics  – and the equipment looks very believable. Even the acting is well done. It’s especially impressive considering the episode was produced on a shoestring budget of $15,000.

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Written by Astro1 on February 21st, 2012 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement