Category Archives: moon landings

Mainstream Manned vs. Robotic Spaceflight

The Apollo space missions to the Moon were the last Beyond Earth Orbit human explorations of Near space, the last being in 1972.

The main reasons being lack of public interest and funding, so any explorations beyond the Near Earth regions have been robotic due to their relative financial benefits and nobody worries much if a robot dies instead of a human being.

That issue might change in the future according to a paper written by Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College (London):

…Out of necessity, all our missions to the outer system have been unmanned, but as we learn more about long-duration life-support and better propulsion systems, that may change. The question raised this past weekend in an essay in The Atlanticis whether it should.

Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College (London) is the focus of the piece, which examines Crawford’s recent paper in Astronomy and Geophysics. It’s been easy to justify robotic exploration when we had no other choice, but Crawford believes not only that there is a place for humans in space, but that their presence is indispensable. All this at a time when even a return to the Moon seems beyond our budgets, and advanced robotics are thought by many in the space community to be the inevitable framework of all future exploration.

But not everyone agrees, even those close to our current robotic missions. Jared Keller, who wrote The Atlantic essay, dishes up a quote from Steve Squyres, who knows a bit about robotic exploration by virtue of his role as Principal Investigator for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. Squyres points out that what a rover could do even on a perfect day on Mars would be the work of less than a minute for a trained astronaut. Crawford accepts the truth of this and goes on to question what robotic programming can accomplish:

“We may be able to make robots smarter, but they’ll never get to the point where they can make on the spot decisions in the field, where they can recognize things for being important even if you don’t expect them or anticipate them,” argues Crawford. “You can’t necessarily program a robot to recognize things out of the blue.”

Landing astronauts is something we’ve only done on the Moon, but the value of the experience is clear — we’ve had human decision-making at work on the surface, exploring six different sites (some of them with the lunar rover) and returning 382 kilograms of lunar material. The fact that we haven’t yet obtained samples from Mars doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do robotically, but a program of manned exploration clearly points to far more comprehensive surface study. Crawford points out that the diversity of returned samples is even more important on Mars, which is more geologically interesting than the Moon and offers a more complicated history.

Image: Apollo 15 carried out 18.5 hours of lunar extra-vehicular activity, the first of the “J missions,” where a greater emphasis was placed on scientific studies. The rover tracks and footprints around the area give an idea of the astronauts’ intense activity at the site. Credit: NASA.

Sending astronauts by necessity means returning a payload to Earth along with intelligently collected samples. From Crawford’s paper:

Robotic explorers, on the other hand, generally do not return (this is one reason why they are cheaper!) so nothing can come back with them. Even if robotic sample return missions are implemented, neither the quantity nor the diversity of these samples will be as high as would be achievable in the context of a human mission — again compare the 382 kg of samples (collected from  over 2000 discrete locations) returned by Apollo, with the 0.32 kg (collected from three locations) brought back by the Luna sample return missions.

It’s hard to top a yield like that with any forseeable robotic effort. Adds Crawford:

The Apollo sample  haul might also be compared with the ≤ 0.5 kg generally considered in the context  of future robotic Mars sample return missions… Note that this comparison is not intended in any way to downplay the scientific importance of robotic Mars sample return, which will in any case be essential before human missions can responsibly be sent to Mars, but merely to point out the step change in sample availability (both in quantity and diversity) that may be expected when and if human missions are sent to the planet.

Large sample returns have generated, at least in the case of the Apollo missions, huge amounts of refereed scientific papers, especially when compared to the publications growing out of robotic landings. Crawford argues that it is the quantity and diversity of sample returns that have fueled the publications, and points out that all of this has occurred because of a mere 12.5 days total contact time on the lunar surface (and the actual EVA time was only 3.4 days at that). Compare this to the 436 active days on the surface for the Lunokhods and 5162 days for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Moreover, the Apollo publication rate is still rising. Quoting the paper again:

The lesson seems clear: if at some future date a series of Apollo-like human missions return to the Moon and/or are sent on to Mars, and if these are funded (as they will be) for a complex range of socio-political reasons, scientists will get more for our money piggy-backing science on them than we will get by relying on dedicated autonomous robotic vehicles which will, in any case, become increasingly unaffordable.

Will the Global Exploration Strategy laid out by the world’s space agencies in 2007 point us to a future in which international cooperation takes us back to the Moon and on to Mars? If so, science should be a major beneficiary as we learn things about the origin of the Solar System and its evolution that we would not learn remotely as well by using robotic spacecraft. So goes Crawford’s argument, and it’s a bracing tonic for those of us who grew up assuming that space exploration meant sending humans to targets throughout our Solar System and beyond. That robotic probes should precede them seems inevitable, but we have not yet reached the level of artificial intelligence that will let robots supercede humans in space.

Currently in mainstream space activities, commercial companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada, etc., are taking the lead in the future exploration of Near Space and the Solar System vice any future explorations by NASA, inspite of what parochial politicians in certain states try to do in Congress.

Of course this precludes any gains made by secret black projects in the military-industrial-complex in the area of any secret space programs.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons politicians aren’t too worried about sending manned NASA missions back to the Moon?

Reasons for a Human Future in Space

Many thanks to Paul Gilster and his great site Centauri Dreams.

Bigelow’s “S.H.A.D.O.”

There was a TV show back in the late 1960s, early 1970s called “UFO.”

Ubiquitous enough, eh?

It was produced by Gary Anderson, better known for making puppet shows, but this program had actual live actors. A game-changer for Anderson.

The premise of the show was that Earth was being attacked by UFO aliens who were kidnapping people in order to experiment on them in order to breed with humans.

Familiar story, no?

Anyway, S.H.A.D.O., an acronym for Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organisation, was formed as a private organization with no connection with governments (so to retain plausible deniability) to combat the alien threat.

S.H.A.D.O. had enough armaments to make Xe (Blackwater) jealous; mobiles (tanks), submarines, jets, rockets, moon shuttles, space interceptors and a Moon Base for them to launch from.

Now Bigelow doesn’t have all of that. Yet.

But it’s no secret he wishes to establish a private space business using his inflatable module technology, and possibly use the same technology for Moon bases.

And it’s also no secret Mr. Bigelow is interested in UFOs; the reason why they are here, who and what are the inhabitants and what technology they are using.

And also; why are some of them violent?

It sounds like a Hollywood plot for a 21st century remake of Earth versus the Flying Saucers.

San Francisco physicist Dr. Jack Sarfatti claims to have heard the rumor while visiting London in 2004, while in the company of Nick Cook, the well known aerospace journalist from the private intelligence publisher Janes Information Group.

“I was asked by the ‘CIA’ not to pursue the story in 2004, but now Bigelow has (allegedly, it seems) opened Pandora’s Box on the story.”

Sarfatti came forward with the rumor following a remark made by billionaire space maven Bob Bigelow to the New York Times about the dangers of UFOs:

“People have been killed. People have been hurt. It´s more than observational kind of data.”

The New York Times had interviewed Bigelow about his recent efforts to build a private space station. In the article, Bigelow was quoted about the lethality of the UFO phenomena, but the basis for Bigelow’s statement was not pursued.

According to Sarfatti, the rumor of a battle between Bob Bigelow’s employees and otherworldly beings was provided by a mysterious French woman, who was accompanied by a body guard carrying a mystery briefcase allegedly containing “some kind of ‘psychotronic’ weapon based on alien ET technology.”

Sarfatti says the woman claimed to be part of a semi-secret Paris UFO group, and the woman attributed the story to Jacques Vallee, the internationally famous researcher who inspired the French UFO researcher Claude Lacombe in Steven Spielberg’s classic UFO film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Sarfatti quickly added, “Allegedly Jacques Vallee denies the story, but now Bob Bigelow seems to have gone public with it — albeit without the details.”

Apparently Sarfatti, who in recent years has consulted to Dr. Ron Pandolfi (for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) on speculative ideas related to reverse engineering hypothetical extraterrestrial technologies, also knows more of this rumor than he is willing to make public.

“I am not divulging details only the general nature of the remarks. In any case Nick Cook heard them also.”

In the 1990s, Bob Bigelow funded UFO investigations under a group he founded called the National Institute of Discovery Sciences, also known as NIDS.

Among the many investigations conducted by NIDS was the mysterious case of the so-called Bigelow Skinwalker Ranch in a remote region of Utah, where a variety of paranormal phenomena had been reported.

One experience made public by former NIDS personnel was the report of a nearly invisible being emerging from a tunnel that appeared to float in thin air, which led to speculation of an opening from another world — a star gate — built from a spacetime wormhole.

According to Sarfatti’s account, the French woman “claimed an actual gun battle at Bigelow Ranch with Bob’s paramilitary against aliens out of the wormhole with dead and wounded humans. She was very convincing and Nick Cook heard the strange tale at his private London Club with me and another witness. I debriefed Kit Green and Ron Pandolfi soon after and the story caused a big stir.”

Pandolfi and Green are well known for their interest in unusual phenomena and their history of employment with the CIA.

Given the many reports of pilots who have lost their lives pursuing UFOs beyond the safe operating range of their aircraft, Bigelow’s comments to the New York Times may have a more mundane explanation.

Until Mr. Bigelow comes forward with a more detailed explanation for his comments about lethal UFO encounters, Sarfatti’s expose’ of the rumor will only further inflame allegations of a cover-up among the fringe elements of the UFO community.

Veerry interesting.

Is Bob Bigelow a modern day, 21st Century Commander Straker? Did he let too much out of the bag?

Or will he be considered to be like Howard Hughes, a brilliant eccentric?

This story bears watching.

Bigelow Aerospace, lethal extraterrestrial UFOs, and alien battle tales revealed

hat tip

More Moon Anomalies

Most folks believe since Mr. Obama’s FY11 Budget for NASA cancels the Constellation Program leaves Moon exploration out in the cold.

It could be no further than the truth.

Johnson Space Center’s Project M, which utilizes robotic and telerobotic technologies, forcasts a return to the Moon is feasible using such tech by 2013, returning to the Moon sooner by two decades than by using Constellation tech.

In doing so, many old Surveyor Lunar Maps have been recovered and redone, plus the Indian probe’s Chandrayaan-1‘s photo survey are being studied and utilized.

But many folks have some of the supposed recovered photos and discovered many anomalous things, such as towers, old bases, spaceships, stacks, arches and other proofs of previous civilization.

Are these possible? Are these true? Are we seeing things?

You decide.

NASA LUNAR ORBITER MOON ANOMALIES

Here is a link to NASAWatch and a lecture by Dennis Wingo, a technoarcheologist who has worked on recovered Surveyor Probe photographs and upgraded them to today’s standards digitally.

http://nasawatch.com/archives/2010/05/dennis-wingo-at.html

And now, from the Fortean perspective…

All week long we’ve looked at different articles with conflicting viewpoints on Hawking’s statements that we should take care in broadcasting our presence to the Universe, because we might attract a powerful interstellar nomadic species that could very well steal our planet and kill us all.

Of course, in the premise of scientists such as Hawking, Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak, the assumption is that possible aliens are a safe many light-years away from us and more than likely continue to be so. Material interstellar travel to 95% of the scientific community is a fantasy; a thing of science-fiction and as ephemeral as pixie dust.

But what if the aliens are already here?

I could be talking about UFOs, but that is only part of the story.

According to Gary S. Bekkum of Starstream Research, aliens are not only here, but could be controlling high ranking figures in world governments:

“As Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking — the world’s most famous physicist — is warning of the danger of contact with otherworldly life forms — the file collection at STARstream Research suggests they might already be here.According to Stephen Hawking, the aliens are ‘out there’ and pose a threat to human existence.

What if Hawking is right — contact with the aliens could be fatal — and what if they are already here?

One highly placed government-related source has confirmed to STARstream Research his opinion — based upon conversations with senior government associates and others — is the extraterrestrial presence is already here, and has made contact with the US government.

Others — notably from fringe government-funded projects like the NSA / DIA / CIA / STAR GATE psychic spy units — warn of an extraterrestrial presence walking among us, and based throughout the solar system.

Real or imagined? Cover-up, disinformation blitz, or bizarre tales based on hidden knowledge of the alien presence?

Over the past several years, persons known for their government affiliations — including key consultants on new technology threats and past and present intelligence officials — have been providing information ‘on background’ to a handful of Internet-based journalists about the CORE STORY: rumors of extraterrestrial contacts with the US government.

Based upon the best information available, it appears that the CORE STORY emerged in the mid-1980s from tales of USAF involvement with extraterrestrial visitors and other, more esoteric events surrounding the United States SECRET psychic spy research.

According to some sources, scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were overcome by paranormal events during investigations of anomalous mental phenomena — the apparent ability of the human mind to access information beyond the reach of ordinary senses — including a series of bizarre holographic-like projections of strange animals, and even a disembodied arm, floating in space.

Later, additional “veridical data” said to have originated with the LLNL security officer, led to the idea of a CORE STORY within the US government.

At least one independent and unrelated source I call “Sarge,” from the USAF, told me in the early 1980s about strangeness taking place involving the Air Force and the aliens.

Recently, other sources have come forward and have provided information concerning an alleged series of extraterrestrial contacts; alleged to have taken place in 1947, 1983, and 1992.

When pressed for the source of this information, we have been told that at least some of the rumors originated with very senior government officials, possibly including Presidents of the United States.

Gus Russo, an investigative author known for his books about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, was independently advised by one unidentified source:

“I believe there’s a ‘core story’, but I don’t know what it is. I have been told by people more senior than me that there is some truth to it, but they told me time and time again to stop pursuing it with CIA people and other Intel types. Two very senior officials told me they saw briefing books, [however] the only ones who would be cleared to know the story are the most senior Pentagon career officers. I have spoken to three former Presidents and the subject always comes up, not as a briefing, but they also want to know the truth. But apparently they aren’t cleared for it.”

A key figure from America’s STAR GATE program, who helped to develop the mental techniques used to spy on the Soviets at the height of the cold war, revealed in 1998 that he had been taken on-board by a covert group interested in uncovering an alien presence on the Moon. In my book, Spies, Lies, and Polygraph Tape, I retell the story of Ingo Swann, adding additional recently declassified material from STAR GATE. According to Ingo Swann, following covert sessions tasked  to psychically spy on the lunar aliens — by a mysterious man he calls “Mr. Axelrod” — he encountered an Extraterrestrial Avatar — an alien in the form of a beautiful human woman — as she was being watched by Axelrod’s henchmen in black. The entire story strains credulity — one can easily imagine Axelrod’s men playing mind-games with Swann — but later the same covert group took Swann to a remote location in Alaska to witness first hand one of the extraterrestrial visitations.

According to the account provided by Ingo Swann, the extraterrestrial  craft was diamond shaped and faded into existence from a mist suspended over a lake. At one point, the group had to dive for cover: according to Swann, they came under attack by “ruby-red laser beams” which blasted the surrounding woods.

In another report found in the CIA released STAR GATE files, a Defense Intelligence Agency officer tasked his psychic spy to remote view aliens in the solar system. According to the documents, which are stamped by official CIA release identification markings (and are available to view at STARpod.org),  the DIA psychic team identified three locations populated by extraterrestrial entities, including locations on the Earth.

In recent years, several sources have come forward and alleged the existence of a new psychic spy effort, alleged to be under the management of the DIA and the National Security Agency. According to one source to Gus Russo — a person who claims to know someone working for the program — an attempted psychic spy operation against a foreign target was disrupted by “interference from an unknown extraterrestrial source.”

Sources familiar with or alleged to have been involved with the NSA program claim to have been tasked to locate Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

A key component in many tales of extraterrestrial encounters is an alien Internet — a ‘telepathic’ direct mind-to-mind information system — which is, perhaps, the basis of the claims of remote viewing psychic phenomena used by the United States government to spy on enemy targets.

According to Swann, ordinary human psychic perception falls flat in comparison to what he has described as the alien’s “telepathy plus,” a powerful and robust form of mind-to-mind communication suggestive of the use of technology to connect brains to each other.

Recent developments in the neurosciences are also suggestive of the possibility of a “telepathy plus” — the direct intervention of human perception using advanced information processing.

All of the above, if taken at face value, suggests the CORE STORY of contact could be interpreted as the takeover  (by an unknown, presumably extraterrestrial presence) of the minds of key human leaders, as part of a covert alien operation to subvert the human race from within. Is it possible the US government has been faced with an insidious extraterrestrial ultra-high-tech command, communication, control, and communication system?

Or, perhaps, the rumors are merely chatter, virally spread throughout the intelligence community by a handful of well-positioned individuals.

Either way, Hawking is clear: contact with an extraterrestrial source may ultimately prove to be fatal.”

In my InnerTube travels during the past three years, I’ve run across Ingo Swan, Stargate Program, YellowBook, alien moonbase, etc., and the sources are usually pretty sketchy to begin with and doubtful at best. Legends of MJ-12, Project SERPO and Eisenhower signing a treaty with aliens also are stories of InnerTube lore and hard to trace and nail down with certainty.

There’s one thing for sure however, Mr. Bekkum is right about there being a “core story” meme that is used through-out the government pipelines to the corporate media and disseminated in drips and drabs to the clueless public.

So is this story just as credible as the others that were talked about during this past week?

Time will tell.

Is Stephen Hawking’s Extraterrestrial Alien Warning Too Late?

Ad Astra VASIMR !

Anyone who is a space cadet knows about the change in NASA’s budget for FY 2011. If you’re a Constellation Program fan, sucks to be you.

For quite some time now Frank Chang Diaz’s company, Ad Astra Rocket Company, has been trying to make science-fiction come true by developing a space drive engine that couples efficiency with power, the VX-200 that was tested last November.

Well, a lot of folks think that Frank’s engine is bullsh*t, but NASA thinks that a test engine, the VF-200-1 can be mounted on the ISS as an orbital adjuster to take the place of the Russian Soyuz or Progress spacecraft that’s presently used:

The VX-200 will provide the critical data set to build the VF-200-1, the first flight unit, to be tested in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). It will consist of two 100 kW units with opposite magnetic dipoles, resulting in a zero-torque magnetic system. The electrical energy will come from ISS at low power level, be stored in batteries and used to fire the engine at 200 kW. The VF-200-1 project will serve as a “pathfinder” for the ISS National Laboratory by demonstrating a new class of larger, more complex science and technology payloads.

Now Bolden proposes in 2015 NASA bid on a Chang-Diaz Drive nuclear-powered lunar tug to supply missions to the Moon’s surface:

Future moon utilization will require a great deal of cargo in the form of facilities, machinery, vehicles, and supplies. Present planning assumes that all of this cargo will be transferred from low Earth orbit to the Moon’s surface by chemical propulsion.

An unmanned cargo capability based on VASIMR® propulsion offers significant cost savings to the proposed lunar exploration program.  VASIMR® delivers the highest fraction of the initial mass in low Earth orbit (IMLEO) to the Moon, thereby reducing the cost per kg. In a 6 month lunar cargo mission, a VASIMR® with 5,000 s specific impulse can deliver approximately double the payload mass of a chemical rocket system.

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However, the Congress-critters who have Constellation Program manufacturing centers in their respective states’ districts’ have had quite a successful media campaign against the new NASA budget and I gotta give them credit, the “Obama killed American human-spaceflight” Kool-Aid has been drunk by a lot of people. Constellation isn’t quite dead yet. In fact, its death-throes could go on all year.

Eventually though, the future will come upon us all and Diazs’ VASIMR will be the future of Solar System travel.

But as an old college professor of mine said years ago, “The only people who like change are babies with crappy diapers.”

How true.

Ad Astra Rocket Company site

Argentina UFO, NASA Dials “M” for “Avatar?”

South America has its share of anomalous happenings and UFO sightings are at the top of the list.

Here is a photo of an helicopter being shadowed by an UFO.

A case study in primitive air travel?

From Prof. Ana Luisa Cid’s website: Photo of an Argentinean police chopper seemingly shadowed by an unidentified flying object. The image was captured by Santiago Molina on February 4, 2010 in the city of Cordoba.

Argentina: Police Copter and UFO

(I saw a police helicopter last night flying over my house, but no UFO. Rats!)

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Mr. Obama’s FY2011 Budget for NASA left a bad taste in the collective mouths of senators and congress-critters from the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas since it cancels the much underfunded and maligned Constellation Program (which has been touted as a welfare program for engineers in these states).

But one feature of this budget is the significant increase of the money going to unmanned science research, including programs like “Project M“:

NASA can put humanoids on the Moon in just 1000 days. They would be controlled by scientists on Earth using motion capture suits, giving them the feeling of being on the lunar surface. I’d pay to use one.

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Geology Training
Back in the Lunar exploration days, scientists had to tell astronauts what to do up there, and how to identify interesting things during the limited time they had. For Apollo 15, the first mission that carried the Lunar Rover, astronauts were trained in field work by Caltech geologist Leon Silver.

That helped them to move faster and look at the ground with a critical science eye, knowing what they were looking for. The result: Their findings and samples were a lot more valuable to scientist back on Earth, confirming theories that weren’t confirmed till then.

Now imagine these NASA C-3POs roaming our satellite, controlled by all kind of scientists using telepresence suits down here, all looking for interesting things using high definition visors, and able to move just like they would move on planet Earth. It won’t work for Mars, but with a communication delay of only three seconds, it will work beautifully on the Moon.

The 1000-day mark is quite plausible, since the mission would be a lot simpler than a human-based one. It will also be quite cheaper than the real thing. First, you don’t have to care about life support systems, which will make spacecraft manufacturing a lot less complex. The whole system would also weight a lot less, reducing the need for the development of a huge rocket, and again reducing the costs.

What about the human factor I’m always defending? Well, we know that, sadly, we’re not going to get astronauts anywhere any time soon, so this is definitely the best alternative. It won’t be as inspiring as humans going back to the Moon or establishing a semi-permanent colony, but it could have an extremely positive effect on science.

Whoever did this at NASA should put together an actual budget as soon as possible. And while you are at it, make it possible for regular people to use one, maybe at the Johnson Space Center or some selected museums through the world. That will definitely inspire people.

Also there is an agreement between NASA and GM to build humanoid robots for tele-operation missions such as Project M.

Hmm..a way around exploring the Moon with real people? Who knows…

NASA’s Project M Puts Scientists’ Avatars On the Moon

Dennis Wingo: Beyond Augustine II

Private space advocate Dennis Wingo posted an article yesterday about how the “not shuttle-c” concept of a NASA side-mounted heavy-lift launch vehicle (SD-HLLV to the space cadets like me) and space entrepreneurs together can make the Moon a very profitable enterprise:

Dennis Wingo: In August of this year I wrote a missive concerning what happens after the Augustine report is released. Well, now that has happened, so what is next? The overall impression is that they did a good job technically in coming up with options and laying out the rational for the options. The concern is not there, the question is does this report provide to the president and NASA a viable path forward? In a curious move, the commission took a big risk and basically rejected one of the central directives from the White House (3d in the Scope and Objectives) which was:

Fitting within the current budget profile for NASA exploration activities.

Basically the Augustine Commission has thrown down the gauntlet in challenging the Obama administration and congress to put up $3 billion dollars in “real purchasing power” (which according to their graph is considerably more than a simple $3 billion increase) or without this you can basically forget exploration. While this conclusion may be debatable, it is commendable in its boldness. Will this strategy work? With a president and congress preoccupied with much larger and more contentious debates, no one knows. The president has indicated strong support technology in general and reasonable support for NASA in particular. In his instructions to Charles Bolden, the new administrator to “give us a space program to make the nation proud”, there may be the support from the Whitehouse for such an increase. Even if they get that, will the options presented by the Augustine commission lead to such a program?

There is much to be commended in this risky strategy if the goal is truly worthy. An indication of this is embodied in the statement of the ultimate goal of American space exploration that is outlined in the Executive Summary first page:

The Committee concludes that the ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human expansion into the solar system.

Now this is something worth working toward!

It is amazing to me as a long time space advocate that for over three decades we seemed to have forgotten this, substituting in its stead vague and uninspiring goals related to science and “inspiration”. In the 1960’s and 70’s it was simply assumed that we were on a course to make this happen. Many movies and television programs of the era all had this as either as an underlying theme or as an aside even in teen love flicks. When Gerard K. O’Neil came out with his NASA study and the book “High Frontier”, it spawned a public movement for opening the space frontier for all mankind that was the seedling for today’s “New Space” movement for commercial human space exploration. The fact that this has returned as a theme in a mainstream report to the president is a good omen that should be latched upon by NASA in going forward to “make the nation proud” in the words of the president.

How to get there is of course the question.

The Augustine Report Findings

In the end, what the Augustine report boils down to in regards to future exploration architectures, is a choice between what the report calls the Ares V Lite (which in reality is the original ESAS Ares V), and the JSC proposed Shuttle Side Mount vehicle. The current “Program of Record” as it is referred to in the report is not considered a viable path forward due to the extremely high costs involved in its development phase, something that many knowledgeable people pointed out as far back as when it was originally unveiled.

As it pertains to destinations or outcomes, the choice is really between what the Augustine Report calls “Moon First” or “Flexible Path”. Mars is out of the picture due to the extreme expense of any viable Martian exploration architecture. The Moon First architecture is further subdivided into three variants. There is the lunar base, the lunar global (extended sorties to a limited number of sites), and sorties. The committee focused on the Lunar Global and Lunar Base scenarios and curiously stated that both variants would cost about the same. Which is only true if you limit the scope of activities at the base.

The Flexible Path is an interesting concept, though some wags call it “look but don’t touch”, that has multiple destinations, including free space locations such as the Earth/Sun libration points.
The committee in developing their options for the launch architecture rightly focused on lifecycle costs in differentiating between the Ares V light and the Shuttle Side Mount launcher. A very interesting and more than likely true observation made by the committee is that no matter which launch vehicle is chosen, the current NASA human spaceflight fixed cost structure will be the same. The committee found that the development costs for the Shuttle Side Mount would be less, which many of us have noted, due to the fact that the Solid Rocket Motors, External Tank, and even the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) boat tail (where the engines are mounted) would be essentially identical to the current shuttle. It would be quicker to field as well. However, they also found that the recurring costs would be higher due to the extremely high cost of the SSME. On the Ares V side, it was found that while the development costs would be higher, the overall lifecycle costs would be lower due to the lower recurring cost of the vehicle. However, there are assumptions built into these findings that could change going forward.

Launch Vehicle Lifecycle Costs Vs Architecture Life Cycle Costs, the Key to Success

With the commission zeroing in on lifecycle costs, one is driven to understand what they mean when applying that term to each architecture as well as each launch vehicle choice. It should be granted, that for some of the missions chosen, that the committee’s findings related to the lower costs of the Ares V lite vs the Shuttle Side Mount are correct. Missions to a libration point, a NEO, Lunar Orbit or Mars orbit or even Lunar Surface Sorties would all be cheaper using the Ares V as there is little that can be done to more efficiently carry out those missions. However, this does not apply to the Moon First lunar base.

The reasoning is as follows: The Shuttle Side Mount Moon First scenario in 5C has two crewed (3 Shuttle Side Mount (SSME’s) per crew) and two heavy lift cargo flights. But why dos there have to be heavy lift cargo flights? The key finding was that for the Shuttle Side Mount that SSME cost dominate the recurring costs, to wit:

With two crew and two cargo missions per year, this would require eight to ten launches of the Shuttle-derived launcher, each with three or four SSMEs or derivatives, for a total of24 to 40 of the Shuttle engines being used, with a resulting high recurring cost. (page 93 of the report)

If you can cut the number of cargo flights from heavy lift to zero and take a page from the Flexible Path’s call for a lighter lunar lander a radical shift occurs. If you had a lunar base, you could actually use a much lighter lander just to ferry crew from lunar orbit to the surface and back. If you were able to do this, the lunar mission itself could possibly be dropped to two Shuttle Side Mounts per crew and four vehicles per year. This would be further enabled by In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), which could proceed from private enterprise to enable the government to explore further and more cost effectively.

If the government chose to locate a base at a lunar pole (preferably the north to enable the maximum amount of surface exploration), and explore outward from there, caches of food, fuel, and other consumables could be staged. There are definite driving paths from the north polar region Peary Crater permanently lit zones down to Mare Frigoris, which then liberates a ground expedition to easily traverse the entire nearside Mare region. Much of the lunar farside terrain in the north is less onerous than in the south as well. Supplies could be emplaced by commercial landers who would use precision guidance to land their payloads, or the supplies could be carried overland by groups paid to do so. How much would the science value be raised and value given to the government by extending their scientific exploration potential. The government could incentivise this market in the same manner as COTS.

This is the beauty of the Moon, it is now within the possible grasp of private enterprise. Instead of launch opportunities once every two years, there is one available every two weeks. Today we have the Delta IV, Atlas V, the upcoming Falcon 9 as well as our international partners who could provide supplies, crews, and other hardware to extend the value of lunar exploration. There is even a plan to uprate the Ariane V to as much as 20 tons to trans lunar injection orbit. There are all kinds of deals that can be struck that would completely swing the cost benefit ratio to this type of architecture. This is something that the flexible path, no matter how scientifically interesting it might be, can provide. Though some of the first product from lunar oxygen production should be to enable a robust NEO mission.

As far as cargo’s go, there are not really that many cargo’s that require the full capability of any of the heavy lifters. For those that do, they could be split between EELV heavy launchers. If a heavy reliance on ISRU were implemented, the number of large Earth integrated payloads would be dramatically reduced.

Augustine and The Issue of In Situ Resources

Anyone who has read the Augustine report is struck is struck by the fact that ISRU, while mentioned, is left out of the near term technology opportunities. Some of this is due to the inertia of only choosing “proven” technologies. This is one thing that we do that is not like we did in the Apollo era, but that we can fix easily. On the earth we have thousands of years worth of experience in mining and processing minerals, making oxygen and metals from lunar rock is but an extension of this. I was very pleased at the ingenuity of the winning team from the lunar regolith challenge at Moffett field in October of this year.

The winner’s robot moved over 500 kilograms (1100 pounds) of simulated regolith in 30 minutes. On the Moon, digging regolith, moving it, processing it, storing the products are all part of what must be learned but the centennial prize actually brought several teams worth of developers into thinking about the problem who built hardware and tested it under the pressure of competition. This machine in some evolved form, will be input side of the ISRU process and even one metric ton per hour of materials processed would lead to amazing results, especially if the output included metals such as iron, aluminum, magnesium, and silicon.

The bottom line is that with very little monetary incentive from NASA in the form of the prizes, some teams have developed quite a bank of human capital and operational experience in these areas. In NASA’s technology roadmap, if ISRU is made a centerpiece of the reason for the lunar base, then it can be applied soon and possibly from private entrants. Larger prizes for larger aspects of exploration could achieve similar results. These prizes, if large enough, could be a significant economic stimulator. The prize for processing a ton of lunar regolith into usable propellant and metallic products must be high enough to encourage participants but should also be enough under the government’s cost to make it cost beneficial to the taxpayers. This could help accelerate the development of this technology to bring it to a much higher technology readiness level, faster than other methods as it widens the pool of interested parties beyond the aerospace companies that normally get larger development contracts. A billion dollars? Two billion? That would be an amazingly cheap price to pay to crash through this exploration debilitating barrier.

Even a layman like me can see the good in his plan, but I have to disagree with his opinion in that this plan might be accomplished within the current budget (unless I mis-read his statement).

So I don’t really see his idea happening any time soon.

Beyond Augustine II

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Hardy Terran Microbes on Mars and The Lunar X Prize Winner

Can microscopic Earth-life survive on Mars?

A recent experiment certainly shows that it’s possible:

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Multiple missions have been sent to Mars with the hopes of testing the surface of the planet for life – or the conditions that could create life – on the Red Planet. The question of whether life in the form of bacteria (or something even more exotic!) exists on Mars is hotly debated, and still requires a resolute yes or no. Experiments done right here on Earth that simulate the conditions on Mars and their effects on terrestrial bacteria show that it is entirely possible for certain strains of bacteria to weather the harsh environment of Mars.

A team led by Giuseppe Galletta of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Padova simulated the conditions present on Mars, and then introduced several strains of bacteria into the simulator to record their survival rate. The simulator – named LISA (Laboratorio Italiano Simulazione Ambienti) – reproduced surface conditions on Mars, with temperatures ranging from +23 to -80 degrees Celsius (73 to -112 Fahrenheit), a 95% CO2 atmosphere at low pressures of 6 to 9 millibars, and very strong ultraviolet radiation. The results – some of the strains of bacteria were shown to survive up to 28 hours under these conditions, an amazing feat given that there is nowhere on the surface of the Earth where the temperatures get this low or the ultraviolet radiation is as strong as on Mars.

Two of the strains of bacteria tested – Bacillus pumilus and Bacillus Nealsonii – are both commonly used in laboratory tests of extreme environmental factors and their effects on bacteria because of their ability to produce endospores when stressed. Endospores are internal structures of the bacteria that encapsulate the DNA and part of the cytoplasm in a thick wall, to prevent the DNA from being damaged.

Galletta’s team found that the vegetative cells of the bacteria died after only a few minutes, due to the low water content and high UV radiation. The endospores, however, were able to survive between 4 and 28 hours, even when exposed directly to the UV light. The researchers simulated the dusty surface of Mars by blowing volcanic ash or dust of red iron oxide on the samples. When covered with the dust, the samples showed an even higher percentage of survival, meaning that it’s possible for a hardy bacterial strain to survive underneath the surface of the soil for very long periods of time. The deeper underneath the soil an organism is, the more hospitable the conditions become; water content increases, and the UV radiation is absorbed from the soil above.

Given these findings, and all of the rich data that came in last year from the Phoenix lander – especially the discovery of perchlorates –  continuing the search for life on Mars still seems a plausible endeavor.

Well, if we depend on NASA confirming life on Mars or not, we’ll be waiting for another 100 years. It just ain’t gonna happen.

It’ll be a consortium of nations, private industry or world governments coming clean that someone has advanced technology and humans are already there that decides the issue!

Bacteria Could Survive in Martian Soil

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The Lunar X Prize Goes To Masten!

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Caption: Masten Space Systems rocket, Xoie preparing to launch from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge

The race for the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge (NGLLXPC) incentivized prize purse, funded by NASA and presented by the X PRIZE Foundation, has come to an exciting finish. Masten Space Systems, led by David Masten, will be awarded the top $1 million prize on Nov. 5 in Washington D.C. at the Rayburn House Office Building. This is the largest incentivized prize awarded by the X PRIZE Foundation since the 2004 Ansari X PRIZE competition.

The NGLLXPC rocket race literally came down to the wire. Masten Space Systems, along with other competing teams descended upon the Mojave Desert last week in a head-to-head showdown. The Masten team set out to chase down Armadillo Aerospace for the Level 2, first-place prize of $1 million. On Oct. 30, in their final attempt, Masten Space Systems successfully launched their ‘Xoie’ vehicle and achieved an average landing accuracy of 19 cm to beat Armadillo Aerospace’s previous accuracy mark of 87 cm. According to competition officials the Masten team achieved accurate landings and won the first-place prize for Level 2 of the NGLLXPC. Armadillo Aerospace, led by id Software founder John Carmack will take home the second place prize of $500,000.

“We are all very excited to have David Masten and John Carmack take the top prizes in the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. It is an honor to award these teams $2 million in prize money,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. “This space race was exciting to watch and experience, as these dedicated teams raced to advance space technology. It is clear that the emerging space industry will continue to benefit from the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge.”

The criterion for the Level 2 NGLLXPC requires the rocket to simulate a full lunar lander mission. The flight profile must closely simulate the task of descending from lunar orbit to the lunar surface, refueling and returning to lunar orbit. To match the performance of such a mission here on Earth, the vehicle must fly along a proscribed mission profiled designed to show both control and power, ascending to a height of 50 meters, translating horizontally to a landing pad 50 meters away, landing safely on a rocky lunar-replica surface after at least 180 seconds of flight time. The flight profile must be repeated, with the rocket demonstrating repeat-use capability by returning to the original launch site.

Since the NGLLXPC competition launched in 2006, one dozen teams have worked to design rockets capable of being used as part of Moon 2.0, a new era of international and sustainable lunar exploration that draws on both government and private involvement. These rocket designs have already found additional missions, with competing teams already carrying out important development work for NASA, the US Department of Defense, and a variety of private and academic customers. Throughout the competition NASA put up $2 million in prize money as part of their Centennial Challenges program. The NGLLXPC was comprised of two levels; each level included both first and second place prizes. The $350,000 first-place prize for Level 1 went to Armadillo Aerospace at last year’s competition. Masten Space Systems will take home the second-place prize of $150,000 in the Level 1 portion of the challenge.

The NGLLXPC was operated by the X PRIZE Foundation at no cost to NASA. This was made possible by the generous support of Northrop Grumman Corporation, which built the original Apollo Lunar Modules used to safely carry crew down to the lunar surface in the 1960s and 1970s. Northrop Grumman supported the competition throughout the four years in which it was offered.

The ultimate goal of the NGLLXPC is to inspire entrepreneurs who can enable a new era of commercial exploration. These milestone events within the privately funded space sector continue to demonstrate the value of prizes and how they stimulate innovation. The successful flights from all of the private space companies continue to underscore the report to President Obama by the Augustine Commission, which called for increased commercial sector participation both in orbital operations and NASA’s efforts to reach the Moon by 2020. Now, more than ever, the time is right for private industry to supply NASA with hardware and services to enable suborbital, orbital, and lunar exploration.

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Caption: The Armadillo rocket, Scorpius launches from the pad in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge

I kept track of this challenge the whole time and the vids were great!

Both teams were quick on the turn-around-time and I couldn’t believe how close these people got to those vehicles before they even cooled off!

Quite a lot of folks look down on the ‘nuspace’ enterprises because they have an unproven track record yet and, of course, the lack of billions of dollars to do their research and development on.

But the technology is 65 years old, so it doesn’t necessarily require all that big money to build something reliable, reusable.

And profitable.

Just a little intelligence, time and elbow grease as Masten, Armadillo and even though they didn’t win anything, Unreasonable Rocket has proven, is required.

Okay, sure, a couple million bucks as incentive didn’t hurt either!

Lunar Lander Competition Awards $2 Million in Prizes

*It should be noted that there are several parts to the Lunar X Prize, the lander competition is just one part.

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ARES 1-X Re-try, Lunar Skylights and Watts on Tonnies

NASA is trying to launch the ARES 1-X test rocket again today: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

The window is open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. like yesterday.

Update: ARES 1-X launched at 11:30 a.m.

As far as I know, the mission profile was accomplished.

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Remember H.G. Wells’ 1964 movie about insect-men in the Moon called “The First Men in the Moon?” (It was based on his 1901 novel).

The ‘Selenite’ (name for moon-people) civilization existed in vast underground (under-regolith?) caverns and tunnels. Their civilization was powered by an immense perpetual motion machine and the air was made by water (they mined the surface for it) being broke down into its basic parts; hydrogen and oxygen.

Well, according to New Scientist, a ‘skylight’ that might possibly lead to a vast tunnel system has been discovered on the Moon’s surface:

A deep hole on the moon that could open into a vast underground tunnel has been found for the first time. The discovery strengthens evidence for subsurface, lava-carved channels that could shield future human colonists from space radiation and other hazards.

The moon seems to possess long, winding tunnels called lava tubes that are similar to structures seen on Earth. They are created when the top of a stream of molten rock solidifies and the lava inside drains away, leaving a hollow tube of rock.

Their existence on the moon is hinted at based on observations of sinuous rilles – long, winding depressions carved into the lunar surface by the flow of lava. Some sections of the rilles have collapsed, suggesting that hollow lava tubes hide beneath at least some of the rilles.

But until now, no one has found an opening into what appears to be an intact tube. “There’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem,” says Carolyn van der Bogert of the University of Münster in Germany. “If it’s intact, you can’t see it.”

Finding a hole in a rille could suggest that an intact tube lies beneath. So a group led by Junichi Haruyama of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency searched for these “skylights” in images taken by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft, which orbited the moon for almost two years before ending its mission in June.

Deep cave

The team found the first candidate skylight in a volcanic area on the moon’s near side called Marius Hills. “This is the first time that anybody’s actually identified a skylight in a possible lava tube” on the moon, van der Bogert, who helped analyse the feature, told New Scientist.

The hole measures 65 metres across, and based on images taken at a variety of sun angles, the the hole is thought to extend down at least 80 metres. It sits in the middle of a rille, suggesting the hole leads into a lava tube as wide as 370 metres across.

It is not clear exactly how the hole formed. A meteorite impact, moonquakes, or pressure created by gravitational tugs from the Earth could be to blame. Alternatively, part of the lava tube’s ceiling could have been pulled off as lava in the tube drained away billions of years ago.

Radiation shield

Finding such an opening could be a boon for possible human exploration of the moon (see What NASA’s return to the moon may look like).

Since the tubes may be hundreds of metres wide, they could provide plenty of space for an underground lunar outpost. The tubes’ ceilings could protect astronauts from space radiation, meteoroid impacts and wild temperature fluctuations (see Can high-tech cavemen live on the moon?).

“I think it’s really exciting,” says Penny Boston of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. “Basalt is an extremely good material for radiation protection. It’s free real estate ready to be exploited and modified for human use.”

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This is most providential. First, the discovery of hydroxyl and water molecules covering most of the Moon’s surface, although only at a depth of a few centimeters (LCROSS crash “cloud” not withstanding), and now possible living spaces under the regolith.

It makes you wonder about all those ‘mysteries’ about the Moon, eh?

Found: first ‘skylight’ on the moon

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Author commenting about a deceased author:

mactThere’s this guy I almost knew, Mac Tonnies. A fan of my books, a writer of his own (I never read After the Martian Apocalypse, his book about the “Face on Mars”, but I read some of his short fiction), and a paradoxical amalgam of UFO buff and skeptic: someone who embraced the phenomenon while rejecting the usual extraterrestrial interpretations. He was more of a those-among-us type; I understand there’s a completed book in the wings that leans heavily towards the Cryptoterrestrial model (much of his interest in my own stuff hailed from his interest in alternate types of consciousness). Mac seemed to regard his place on the fringe with wry humor, and the habitat itself with tonnes of salt.  He didn’t let any of that cramp his propensity for wild speculation. I never really knew whether he was a flake or not; I’m no expert on UFOs. But I checked the rss feed for Post-Human Blues pretty much daily, with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation: eagerness because the dude always had a shitload of cool links to cutting-edge nuggets ranging from robotics to psychoactives, and trepidation because the fucker posted so many links that I could have easily spent a couple of hours every day just following the rabbit-holes planted on Mac Tonnies’s blog. I never met the man face to face: we came within a couple of provinces of each other when he was up in Halifax a while back, but there was never really any rush because we were bound to end up at the same con at the same time at some point. I run into all of you paranormal types eventually.

Except I won’t be running in Mac Tonnies, because he’s dead. Last Thursday, in his apartment, “natural causes”.

Watts elucidates as only Watts can.

The guy’s great!

So was Mac.

Post Human

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Moon Landing Proof?

Did we, or didn’t we land on the Moon in 1969?

Is this proof we did?

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A month after LROC’s first image of the Apollo 11 landing site was acquired, LRO passed over again providing LROC a new view of the historic site. This time the Sun was 28 degrees higher in the sky, making for smaller shadows and bringing out subtle brightness differences on the surface. The look and feel of the site has changed dramatically.

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The astronaut path to the TV camera is visible, and you may even be able to see the camera stand (arrow). You can identify two parts of the Early Apollo Science Experiments Package (EASEP) – the Lunar Ranging Retro Reflector (LRRR) and the Passive Seismic Experiment (PSE). Neil Armstrong’s tracks to Little West crater (33 m diameter) are also discernable (unlabeled arrow). His quick jaunt provided scientists with their first view into a lunar crater.

What I liked was the faint foot trail left by Armstrong going back and forth to the West Crater. Cool.

Did we go? You be the judge.

Apollo 11: Second Look