Panel says NASA should skip moon, fly elsewhere (Update)

Oct 23, 2009 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
This image provided by NASA shows the 327-foot-tall Ares I-X rocket, sitting on Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Tuesday Oct. 20, 2009 awaiting it's Oct. 27 first experimental flight. A special independent panel told the White House Thursday Oct. 22, 2009 that NASA needs to make a major detour on its grand plans to return astronauts to the moon concentrating on bigger rockets and new places to explore. (AP Photo/NASA)

(AP) -- NASA needs to make a major detour on its grand plans to return astronauts to the moon, a special independent panel told the White House Thursday.

Under current plans, NASA has picked the wrong destination with the wrong rocket, the panel's chairman said. A version of the rocket, the new Ares I, is on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, awaiting liftoff later this month for its first experimental flight.

Instead, NASA should be concentrating on bigger rockets and new places to explore, the panel members said, as they issued their final 155-page report. The committee, created by the White House in May to look at NASA's troubled exploration, shuttle and space station programs, issued a summary of their findings last month, mostly urging more spending on space.

On Thursday in a news conference, panel Chairman Norman Augustine focused on fresh destinations for NASA, saying that it makes more sense to put astronauts on a nearby asteroid or one of the moons of . He said that could be done sooner than returning to the moon in 15 years as NASA has outlined.

The exploration plans now under fire were pushed by then-President George W. Bush after the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. The moon-Mars plan lacks enough money, thanks to budget diversions, the panel said in a 155-page report. Starting in 2014, NASA needs an extra $3 billion a year if astronauts are going to travel beyond Earth's orbit, the panel said.

The Augustine commission wants NASA to extend the life of the program and the . Space shuttles are due to retire Oct. 1, 2010, but should keep flying until sometime in 2011 because they won't get all their flights to the space station done by that date. And the space station itself - only now nearing completion - should operate until at least 2020, allowing for more scientific experiments, part of its reason for existence. NASA's timetable calls for plunging it into the ocean in 2015.

However, the overall focus of the panel's report is on where U.S. space exploration should be headed.

The White House will review the panel's analysis "and then ultimately the president will be making the final decision," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in an e-mail comment.

The committee outlines eight options. Three of those involve a "flexible path" to explore someplace other than the moon, eventually heading to a Mars landing far in the future. The flexible path suggests no-landing flights around the moon and Mars.

Landing on the moon and then launching back to Earth would require a lot of fuel because of the moon's gravity. Hauling fuel from Earth to the moon and then back costs money.

It would take less fuel to land and return from asteroids or comets that swing by Earth or even the Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos, Augustine said.

Eventually, Augustine said NASA could return to the moon, but as a training stepping stone, not a major destination, as the Bush plan envisioned.

Panel member Ed Crawley, a professor at MIT, said NASA should explore the inner solar system "to interest the American public in new destinations."

He noted that so many new asteroids and comets are being discovered each year that the potential first landing spot "is probably one we don't know about yet."

Augustine said landing astronauts on such a near-Earth object could occur in the early 2020s.

In a news conference to discuss their report, Crawley and Augustine said the current NASA plans were well conceived at the time, in 2005. But when money got diverted and launch dates delayed, NASA's new Ares I rocket began to look like it lost one of its major purposes: ferrying astronauts to the space station.

Crawley said the panel liked the idea of a commercially operated, more basic rocket-taxi to get astronauts into the low-Earth orbit of the space station. If NASA spent about $5 billion to help kick-start the embryonic commercial space business to do the people-carrying, then the space agency could concentrate on heavier rockets that do the real far-off exploring, he said.

Those commercial rockets should be ready in about six years, Crawley said.

NASA is slowly delaying some parts of the old program. It's rethinking its future annual $10 million spending on a still-unbuilt lunar lander as it awaits Obama's decision on the Augustine panel recommendations, said spokesman Grey Hautaluoma.

George Washington University space scholar John Logsdon praised the report as "more comprehensive" than NASA's current program.

Syracuse University public policy professor Henry Lambright said he worries about changes that will cause a loss in momentum in NASA's exploration plans. "You've got to make a decision and you've got to stick to it if you are ever going to get to Mars."

Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., criticized the idea of using unproven commercial carriers instead of the Ares, which was designed in his state. He said the report was "unsatisfactory and disappointing."

---

Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/hsf/home/index.html

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 23

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danman5000
4.7 / 5 (3) Oct 22, 2009
They'd be hard-pressed to make this article any shorter. There's no explanation whatsoever about why "some dude" said this or any background about who he is other than to say he's on some panel. There's no real information here other than how to pronounce the guy's name. I'm disappointed in you, Physorg.
PieRSquare
not rated yet Oct 22, 2009
I'm disappointed in you, Physorg.


I agree the article is really weak but that's really AP's fault, not Physorg's.
Sean_W
not rated yet Oct 22, 2009
Asteroids and Mars' moons have the advantage of having less gravity to fight against when bringing people and mineral wealth back so that even with the much greater distances it can be more efficient to do that then go to the moon. But this same low gravity makes longer term habitation harder on humans so a perminent lunar base is better for colonization. There are pros and cons to each type of mission. I think that lunar bases would possibly spur more private sector participation in human space flight. Asteroids might attract more investment but much of it would end up supporting robotic mining technologies to minimize the time humans need to spend in lower gravity. Lunar bases would be oriented towards extending the time a researcher or tourist could spend at the location by developing support infrastructure like agricultural buildings, energy equipment, medical fascilities and the like.
mabarker
not rated yet Oct 22, 2009
A tourist to a lunar base? Isn't that an oxymoron like *rap music*? Let's see - I want to $pend many thou$and$ to go to a l.b. to view an airless, sterile *environment* while being constantly blasted by cosmic rays.
sender
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
Sounds sensible, rocket boosting is a waste to such near objects space fountains make better sense of cash and resource. Space beam power and gravity field utility 2010!
Keno_Dan
5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2009
Might I suggest that we all read the 150+ page from the Augustine before we offer any more bright ideas? Its on www.NASA.gov Daniel Sterling Sample http://www.cyrus-...stem.com
ScottyB
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2009
Here is a link to the report
http://www.nasa.g...port.pdf
antialias
3 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2009
Why would they not want to return to the the moon but instead try for something farther away?

Because they know that other nations (China, India) will beat them to it. That would be a terrible PR disaster.
LariAnn
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 23, 2009
Every time I hear about how quickly the ISS is to be scrapped, I come up with new ideas for it. Besides selling it off to the highest commercial bidder, why not outfit it to move out of Earth orbit and on the way to a Lagrange point or even out to the Moon or beyond? That way we'd have a ready-made space platform available to utilize for future missions. Makes more sense to me than simply crashing such an expensive structure into the ocean . . .whose idea was that, anyway?
danman5000
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
Hooray, they updated the article with actual information! I rescind my earlier post. I'm going to go under the illusion that I was responsible for this, and pat myself on the back.

I agree about the space station - I can't believe they are even considering letting it crash. Also, how is NASA the one making these decisions? What about the whole "international" part of the ISS? Seems like the other countries that spent a few billion on modules might get a little angry when the US just decides to destroy it.
danman5000
1 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 2009
Here's an idea: instead of crashing the station into the ocean, let's ram a probe into it like we did to the moon! Get some nice two for one destruction, and maybe we'll actually get to see something like we were supposed to with LCROSS.
Shootist
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
Every time I hear about how quickly the ISS is to be scrapped, I come up with new ideas for it. Besides selling it off to the highest commercial bidder, why not outfit it to move out of Earth orbit and on the way to a Lagrange point or even out to the Moon or beyond? That way we'd have a ready-made space platform available to utilize for future missions. Makes more sense to me than simply crashing such an expensive structure into the ocean . . .whose idea was that, anyway?


They had the chance to do this with Skylab, as well. Want to bet they make another bad decision?
flashgordon
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
I've been thinking along these lines for awhile now but never said anything(I've thought lots of things; and, it seems that I don't even have to say anything; they just happen . . . even after saying various things to various people who just refuse to listen; it just seems like I don't have to say anything!)

Anyways, a further plus to note about this plan is that the commercial sector can adjust faster than government researchers can; i mean, the Aries 1 rocket is already obsolete with the new finding of nano-aluminum/water propellants! Having the commercial sector do the exploration more and more allows the keeping up with each new advance and not to stay obsolete for quite as long as the government researchers.
Yelmurc
not rated yet Oct 23, 2009
Here is a link to the report
http://www.nasa.g...port.pdf


Thanks for the link ScottyB
Neurons_At_Work
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
They'd be hard-pressed to make this article any shorter.
'Brevity is the soul of wit'


Brevity might be the soul of wit, but it is the left toenail of understanding.
plasticpower
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
NASA doesn't own the entire ISS. Chances are, a lot of the parties involved would vote to keep it flying. The Russian MIR station stayed in space forever even after the fire disabled one of the modules.
Buyck
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
I think its reasonable to take the Moon as first target to settle humans in 2020-2025. All what we need is money... where are the privat investers?
Sepp
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
"Landing on the moon and then launching back to Earth would require a lot of fuel because of the moon's gravity. Hauling fuel from Earth to the moon and then back costs money."

Something I don't understand: If NASA could do it in the 60s with Apollo, why is it so much more difficult now. It should be easier, with technology being so much more advanced, rather than more difficult.
dcbCreative
not rated yet Oct 24, 2009
Inspired by what I read in this article, I have a naive inquiry... ...That inquiry for all you brainiacs is: When the space station reaches its "end of life" in orbit around the earth, instead of dropping it into the ocean why doesn't its governing body opt to add some thrusters (Like one of those plasma engines I keep reading about here) and carefully move it into orbit around the moon? I honestly don't understand why something that took twelve years to build and who knows how long to design only has a proposed completion life of five years (Does it get that much wear and tear up there). It seems silly not to repurpose it.
TheEyeofTheBeholder
2 / 5 (1) Oct 24, 2009
I really appreciate this report, backing my belief the bush had no sense of knowledge (and never should had be president) and screwed with NASA for his own glory. It did not work and now we have an agency with no focus and bad goals. Decommissioning the station, stupid, not repairing the Hubble, ignorance. Thank god we have new leadership of both this Country and NASA.

Secondly, as much as I love science-fiction or because of it. We are stuck here on Earth for the time being. The only way we will travel in space is if we had a 'warp drive' engine just like the movies. And we just do not have that capacity yet. Perhaps, we will have it before the sun reaches red giant status.
yyz
not rated yet Oct 25, 2009
dcbCreative, I, too, lament the eventual decommissioning of our very costly, but now more capable ISS, no matter the time frame looked at. But putting the ISS into lunar orbit, for which it was not designed, adds a whole host of new problems. Logistical resupply and manning of a lunar orbiting facility would have to be developed and the cost may be prohibitive. Another serious problem with a lunar orbiting ISS is that the station leaves the relatively safe, shielded region of the earth's magnetosphere. ISS inhabitants would be exposed to direct high energy particles and radiation from the sun on at least part of its 28 day ride around the earth from lunar orbit. Additional (heavy) shielding would be required to protect the crew from spikes in solar radiation. Perhaps the ISS could continue as as way station or transfer point in its current LEO configuration.
otto1923
not rated yet Oct 25, 2009
Asteroids might attract more investment but much of it would end up supporting robotic mining technologies to minimize the time humans need to spend in lower gravity.
Where it will probably get whacked sooner or later by debris. What about a lagrange point? Radiation still a problem?

As far as the report: Martian moons, asteroids, comets- they are the economic and military high ground now. As has been noted above, the deep gravity wells are where people will live but resources will come from these smaller bodies. They can be mined robotically. Factories can be located on them. They can be moved with time and effort in reciprocal. We've shown how easy the moon is- the initiative which can generate the most tech advance and economic return is further out. If moonies or Martians cause us trouble we throw rocks at them.
otto1923
not rated yet Oct 25, 2009
Ach! I used the wrong quote for above, instead of:
Perhaps the ISS could continue as as way station or transfer point in its current LEO configuration
Our Martian roving and moon impacting may just be considered diversions, like building battleships when carriers were going to be superior in ww2. All of everything is Deception.

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