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Panel Recommends Space Science, Not Stunts

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the lunar-mission-accomplished-banner dept.

Space 304

wisebabo writes "A panel reporting to President Obama is recommending that we skip landing on the Moon and Mars and instead consider progressively deeper space voyages (first to the L1 Earth-Moon point, then perhaps the L2 Earth-Sun point, then a Mars flyby/orbit or asteroid visits). While in Mars orbit, the astronauts could send robotic probes to land on the surface, which could be much more effective than current rovers without the 10-minute time lag to Earth. I, for one, whole-heartedly agree that this approach would lead to 'the most steady cadence of steady improvement,' and keep us from inconsistent achievements in space (like not leaving Earth orbit for 40 years). Some would say that this approach would be lacking in the photo-ops necessary to maintain interest in the space program (no footprints on Martian soil) but I think there would be plenty of cool vistas — perhaps a rendezvous with a comet, or even orbiting one of the moons of Jupiter, assuming they figure out radiation shielding — to keep the taxpayer dollars flowing. The science return would be much greater because it would hopefully utilize both man and machine at their best; robots on one-way trips down into a gravity well while the humans provide the intuition and flexibility from orbit."

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Orbit is a gravity well (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916339)

You've got to burn engines to enter and leave it.

I can see an argument of humans vs space probes, but the idea of putting the humans in orbit to release the space probes seems to be the worst of both worlds.

If we are going to send humans out there, they should be landing on something, otherwise send probes.

Re:Orbit is a gravity well (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 5 years ago | (#28916413)

Yes, but you can use efficient, low power engines rather than big heavy rockets.

But I agree with you. I don't see where the benefit is in stopping at the L1 point. Even if there's a reliability issue, it makes more economic sense to just send more probes than the considerable cost of sending astronauts up there.

Nonsense. Yeah... I think that is the word. (5, Insightful)

denzacar (181829) | about 5 years ago | (#28916855)

That so called "plan" would have human crews travel all the way to Mars and then sit in orbit around it - in order to save 10 minutes that it takes to contact rowers.

A flyby of the moon might be followed by more distant trips to so-called Lagrange points, first to the location where the gravity of the Moon and the Earth gravity cancel each other out, then to where the gravity of the Earth and Sun cancel out. There could also be visits to asteroids or flybys of Mars leading to landings on one or both of the low-gravity moons of Deimos and Phobos.

To what use are ANY of these trips?

Lagrange points are only useful if you are actually going to position a permanent lab there.
Flybys and visits... What for? You can do that just as fine with robotic probes.

The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.
It is not a test to see how far we can throw a rock - it is a test to see how close we are to the colonization of our solar system.

Re:Nonsense. Yeah... I think that is the word. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916997)

How are we supposed to get humans to other places in the Solar System if we are always sending robots instead?

Re:Nonsense. Yeah... I think that is the word. (5, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | about 5 years ago | (#28917145)

in order to save 10 minutes that it takes to contact rowers.

I don't think the issue is "saving 10 minutes", the issue is lag.

Think computer games - a bad lag doesn't mean "You have to wait a few seconds longer to play the game", it makes the game unplayable.

From TFA:

"Instructions from controllers on Earth now take several minutes to reach craft on Mars. But astronauts on a Martian moon could operate robots on the planet in real time."

It's not 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes for every single instruction and response, as opposed to operating in real time. Not only would this speed things up by a massive factor, it allows the possibility of human intervention or control to prevent things going wrong (e.g., a human controlled landing).

The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.
It is not a test to see how far we can throw a rock - it is a test to see how close we are to the colonization of our solar system.

Why does this stop that? You can colonise space as well as other planets. And building the infrastructure to send men to orbit other planets will still provide a step towards one day colonising those planets.

Re:Nonsense. Yeah... I think that is the word. (4, Insightful)

bigpat (158134) | about 5 years ago | (#28917427)

It's not 10 minutes, it's 10 minutes for every single instruction and response, as opposed to operating in real time. Not only would this speed things up by a massive factor, it allows the possibility of human intervention or control to prevent things going wrong (e.g., a human controlled landing).

Like when the rover sees a shadow, the human controller could quickly swing the camera around to see the Martians...

Those probes cost many millions of dollars to get there (and with a human in orbit it would cost billions more), no one on Earth is going to allow any astronaut to be making split second decisions about rolling over into a ditch or checking out a particularly interesting rock. What we need is better robotics and AI for these missions and more of them not a very expensive human fly by.

To me the only interesting planet in our solar system is our own, so I'd be all for ditching manned exploration altogether and throwing money at solving the issues of getting a probe or even a manned mission to another solar system where there might be habitable worlds and new life. These are completely different problems to solve.

Re:Nonsense. Yeah... I think that is the word. (1)

Thiez (1281866) | about 5 years ago | (#28917257)

> The whole point of space travel is to permanently get humans to other places in the Solar System, Galaxy and Universe other than Earth.

It is? Why would any human want to permanently go to another planet/moon/whatever? It's not like there are many places in our current solarsystem that most humans would consider a nice place to live. I'll agree that having people on another planet is cool (in much the same way that being able to juggle flaming chainsaws is cool), I fail to see what makes it useful to us, especially the 'permanently' part. For me the whole space exploration thing is more about gaining knowledge about the universe and its history, and human space travel is just another way to do that, but sending robots (and researching more advanced robots) is way more cost-effective for now. So why not stick to that for the time being and forget about sending creatures that are so obviously unsuited for life on other planets into space?

Re:Orbit is a gravity well (4, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | about 5 years ago | (#28917283)

The difference between surface and orbit is rather dramatic. It takes more rocket performance to get from Mars surface to Mars orbit as it does to get from Mars orbit to Earth. Not landing cuts the required performance dramatically — the delta-v budget for Mars orbit and back is similar to that for Lunar surface and back.

To me, the biggest reason to send humans to Mars orbit and not land is to do systems tests — the first Lunar missions with people on them didn't land either. So, start by sending humans on orbital-only missions. While you're there, you might as well drop a few probes — there's plenty of useful science they can do, and having humans nearby is definitely helpful. Then, after a couple flights like that, you decide you have things checked out well enough for a landing.

If you want a serious space program, you do incremental test and development. Test one system first, then once it's confirmed working, test another. If all you want is a stunt and some photos, sure, start with the landing. Personally, I want a real space program with long term goals.

You can't take ownership with a probe. (3, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 5 years ago | (#28917371)

Beyond the earth is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Fields strewn with diamonds, entire moons made of hydrocarbon, lands to take dominion of to make Alexander the Great appear an insignificant tribal chief. But the people who take ownership of the realms beyond the sky will send men, not robots.

Thank God - moving forward with common sense (4, Insightful)

dtolman (688781) | about 5 years ago | (#28916343)

We've been to the moon. Let the Chinese try it again. I think landing on an asteroid, or a moon of Mars, or buzzing a comet - they are all much more exciting. The moon is a dead end - tackling deep space is the real future!

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (3, Insightful)

acoustix (123925) | about 5 years ago | (#28916749)

I thought the point of going to the moon was to build a base their to launch other missions. It takes much less fuel to leave the moon's gravity than it does the Earth's.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (4, Interesting)

SEWilco (27983) | about 5 years ago | (#28917353)

The Moon is a stepping stone. Having people permanently on it is good practice for living in a vacuum, they can easily hop out of the shallow gravity well, and they have a small planet's worth of material (even if all it can be used for is tunneling into for living space).

Footprints on the moon isn't a photo op.
It's a pathway.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (4, Insightful)

kestasjk (933987) | about 5 years ago | (#28916755)

Hard to say what constitutes as a "dead end" when there's no solid objective.
  • Is the objective colonization on Mars/research into Mars? If so you're right by default.
  • If the objective is mining deep space asteroids for precious metals the moon might be just as good "practice" as Mars.
  • If it's about general science things like telescopes and labs are probably just as good on the moon.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28916907)

I think that the Moon will be really good for one thing - as a place for scientific telescopes. While orbit is dynamically "quiet", every orbiter is basically like a free-floating bunch of springs linked together - all spacecraft have lots of resonances that get excited and free flying spacecraft tend to vibrate. That is especially true if there are people on it. The Moon is this nice heavy thing that doesn't vibrate (much). There are a number of things, such as optical interferometers, that would be much easier from the Moon than in free space. Now, I wouldn't go to the Moon just to put telescopes there, but, if you are going there, it is a good place to put telescopes.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (1)

bigpat (158134) | about 5 years ago | (#28917437)

The answer is yes.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (1, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | about 5 years ago | (#28916777)

The moon is a dead end - tackling deep space is the real future!

And what are you going to do once you get there? Come back and proclaim it's a dead end?

I want a house on the Moon to visit for the weekend.

Re:Thank God - moving forward with common sense (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916865)

in the first place,no one has landed on any moon.
Second,when all potholes are filled,new safe bridges are built,RR tracks are properly maintained,single payer health care is in place,20 million breeding,illegal aliens are sent packing,electric street car systems are built and updated,all wall street gangsters and banksters are given a one way ticket to Purina Dogchow,to be processed into their best selling product,Congress put on social security and medicare at 65 or later,stop all murdering and unprovoked attacks of other sovereign nations,while committing genocide on the white people,(check out how many, white morons have been killed since WW1!)
all privatizing(thievery of public property)is immediately reversed,people are given back THEIR airwaves etc,etc;we should allow,private tax free dabbling in some of these"sciences",nothing more.
 

why not just... (2, Funny)

omgarthas (1372603) | about 5 years ago | (#28916345)

record the mars human landing on a stage in nevada and save loads of money like we did before?

oh wait...

Re:why not just... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28917029)

Obligatory... [geekculture.com]

"We go to the moon in this decade..." (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 5 years ago | (#28916349)

The only way to sustain any interest in space exploration is what you call "stunts".

We have, for the past 30 years, embroiled ourselves in space exploration which has led us to the current state of apathy. NASA is at the ends of its life if we continue to follow a step-by-step progression towards the future. There is no hope in a slow progression towards the stars.

We need to take bold actions to ignite interest, because in America only bold actions and strong interest drive anything forward. Lukewarm actions toward a goal are not in our nature, so stop trying to sell us on it, man.

Re:"We go to the moon in this decade..." (2, Insightful)

PieSquared (867490) | about 5 years ago | (#28916697)

I tend to agree. While you can get far more science per dollar by sticking a person in mars orbit and dropping probes for a few weeks then you can for actually putting a man on mars itself... well there are two problems with that analysis. The first is that even probes that are remote-controlled without the 14 minute lag have a very limited capacity to deal with the unexpected. "Hey look, there's something interesting under that rock! Unfortunately, none of our arms are capable of lifting ten pounds, so there's absolutely nothing we can do." Given the same number of missions rather then the same amount of money, you get more bang for your buck by sticking someone on the surface.

The other reason is the one you already mentioned. While you may get more science for your buck with robots, you get more bucks for your science if you manage to capture public attention. If you tell the public "we're going to put someone in mars orbit and land a robotic probe" they're going to say "why aren't we landing a *person*? We were able to do that half a century ago! What are we paying you for again...?". If you say "we need another billion dollars to accomplish our goal of PUTTING AN AMERICAN ON MARS" they'll say "Cool! Do you take personal checks?" Well, to a certain extent, obviously.

Re:"We go to the moon in this decade..." (3, Insightful)

WagonWheelsRX8 (1282738) | about 5 years ago | (#28917361)

This, of course, assumes that the average American Joe actually *cares* if we put a man on Mars. We're not in the '60s anymore, there is no 'space race' currently underway. Its sad for me to say this, being an American, but If you want Americans interested in a manned mission to Mars, you better send some football players instead of astronauts, and have a nice game of gridiron (meaning that we have become a culture that cares more about advancing the art entertainment than fundamental science). Otherwise, my thoughts are that most people won't get excited regardless if its a manned mission or not, as most people just aren't that interested (because we're selfish and there's perceivably nothing in it for us).

Re:"We go to the moon in this decade..." (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 5 years ago | (#28917445)

The only way to sustain any interest in space exploration is what you call "stunts".

Marketing managed to sell a billion licenses of Vista to people who, for the most part, have no intention of using it. I'm sure if they tried a good marketing team could come up with a way to drive interest in space exploration.

Nice idea, but... (4, Insightful)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | about 5 years ago | (#28916355)

Science does not operate in a vacuum. It needs both public and political support and for that, you definitely need those photo ops... and while a Mars flyby might provide that, a trip to the L1 point won't look especially different from the average space station trip aside from the vehicle used. Just lots of space. Without the pretty pictures, congresspeople who usually don't know any better start asking what the point of NASA is and fight to de-fund it even more.

Re:Nice idea, but... (4, Funny)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about 5 years ago | (#28916381)

Science does not operate in a vacuum.

I can assure you it does.

Re:Nice idea, but... (1)

yincrash (854885) | about 5 years ago | (#28916657)

I would like to see the reproducible test results.

Re:Nice idea, but... (3, Funny)

91degrees (207121) | about 5 years ago | (#28916739)

Aside from meteorology and aerodynamics, of course.

Re:Nice idea, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916653)

Why not let rovers do the landings and use Photoshop for the photo ops?

Re:Nice idea, but... (2, Interesting)

J05H (5625) | about 5 years ago | (#28917347)

Earth-Moon L1 has a significantly different view than LEO space station. It's about 2/3 the way to the Moon, you can see the full face of the Earth and always have a waxing/waning moon in the other direction. In LEO you have the Earth covering about 180 degrees of the view at all times, saturating visibility (but providing warmth and some shielding).

While a Mars flyby might not seem exciting, Mars orbit, Phobos and Deimos would provide huge photo-ops along with science. Additionally Mars' moons have the entire history of Mars available in the form of rocks blasted off the surface. We can do Mars science, including sample collection and return, without ever going to the surface. Personally I'm all for landings, but orbiting can be done sooner and with great results.

Public Attention (4, Insightful)

Tom90deg (1190691) | about 5 years ago | (#28916377)

The problem with probes on Mars and the like, is just what the article said. A good space program that would advance science would take a huge ammount of money. The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11. "Well, we made it to the moon! Wait, why are we going back? we DID that already."

The public is very cold on science for science's sake, you have to have photo ops. A trip to the moon would get interest going, get money flowing so they can DO the important stuff. You have to get the public on your side, and, sadly, there's no big Russian menace for the public to cry out, "We must beat them!" Quite a few people thought that once we beat the Russians to the Moon, well, that was fun, no need to go back. Hopefully people will realize how important the space program is, but something tells me that it won't be soon, and it won't be until we get something inspiring. Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars? That will.

Re:Public Attention (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916583)

>>> there's no big Russian menace for the public to cry out, "We must beat them!"

If only Osama Bin Laden was planning a Mars mission !

Re:Public Attention (1, Funny)

yabos (719499) | about 5 years ago | (#28916775)

All we need is the US govt. to produce evidence that Martians have WMDs. Then they'll authorize a trillion dollars to invade Mars.

Re:Public Attention (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917329)

Or oil, then exxon will spend it to get there...

Re:Public Attention (1)

msuarezalvarez (667058) | about 5 years ago | (#28917475)

No. Someone at Exxon will phone someone, and then the US govt will authorize another trillion dollar trip to liberate, hmm, Martians. Just like last time. Whent he liberating is, hmm, done (imagine the corresponding photo-op where the president comes down of a space ship!), only *then* will Exxon go.

Re:Public Attention (1)

Fantom42 (174630) | about 5 years ago | (#28916615)

The problem with probes on Mars and the like, is just what the article said. A good space program that would advance science would take a huge ammount of money. The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11. "Well, we made it to the moon! Wait, why are we going back? we DID that already."

Why WERE we going back? Did we really "get what we paid for" on those later trips to the moon? It sounds like engineering for engineering's sake more than science for science's sake. At any rate, I applaud the new administration for trying to raise the level of public activity:

The public is very cold on science for science's sake, you have to have photo ops. A trip to the moon would get interest going, get money flowing so they can DO the important stuff. You have to get the public on your side, and, sadly, there's no big Russian menace for the public to cry out, "We must beat them!" Quite a few people thought that once we beat the Russians to the Moon, well, that was fun, no need to go back. Hopefully people will realize how important the space program is, but something tells me that it won't be soon, and it won't be until we get something inspiring. Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars? That will.

It is thinking like this that has gotten the US into meaningless, expensive wars. Yes, it is more of a challenge to excite the public about the prospect of something real, instead of ginning up some fake reason to do something, with pretty pictures and photo-ops. But instead of the government wasting our money trying to be a marketing organization, how about they actually try to do something useful as a primary function, and worry about how to sell it as a second priority? The entertainment industry is thriving. They don't need any help from the Government.

Re:Public Attention (1)

MurphyZero (717692) | about 5 years ago | (#28916817)

You mean Columbus is going back to America (West Indies)? He did that already. How is that going to inspire anybody?

Well I have checked the public, particularly that reported by the media and I have the perfect solution: Send Paris Hilton or Britney Spears with a camera focused on them 24/7 (probably between their legs) and have the other astronauts have sex with them regularly. This way the government makes money back on selling the videos. It'll be the first pay per view coverage of the astronauts. Plus this gives NASA another way of getting vital technology to the masses: either VD cures or a means of prevention transmission of VD. Now since it will likely take NASA years before such a plan could go into effect, Paris and Brit will be too old, but the next talentless 'celebrity' will be readily available.

Public goes cold on photo ops rather quickly building a plan based on the photo ops is likely doomed to fail. I don't even think it's all that necessary to build the public support as long as the goals are clear and supportable. I am not so sure about that for the current NASA plan

Re:Public Attention (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28917077)

You mean Columbus is going back to America (West Indies)? He did that already. How is that going to inspire anybody?

People in general? Easily; it's a brand new land to colonise and explore. People with money to invest? Easily; it's a brand new land with mineral and agricultural resources to exploit.

Space? Now so much. Exploring Mars is much less interesting. We've mapped it from orbit, so the only exciting things to find are things too small to show up on orbital photographs. If it has mineral wealth to exploit, it's incredibly expensive to get it back, so unlikely to be worth it. If there were large lumps of pure U235 sitting on the surface, it might be worthwhile, but it doesn't seem likely. Asteroid mining might be more likely to give valuable results, especially if it's linked to microgravity manufacturing.

Re:Public Attention (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 years ago | (#28917083)

You know, you could be on to something. Since it's a well known fact (at least around here) that porn drives technology....

The rest is left as an exercise to the student. Blackjack and hookers - or something like that.

Re:Public Attention (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 5 years ago | (#28917289)

The reasons for returning to the Americans was plenty obvious to even the most uneducated git. There were tons of resources there the Europeans wanted. The lumber alone would have been enough to make it worth while. The English were already having problems finding trees big enough for ships masts at home. There was also great fishing, fur, and gold.

The moon on the other hand seems to have very little to offer, at least that we are interested in at the present enough to justify a trip. Add to that the little problem of our lacking a space vessel that can carry a meaningful amount of cargo.

Re:Public Attention (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916833)

Actually the public were very keen on the Mars Rovers, even people who don't normally take any interest in science. That's because they were achieving something interesting. I can't think of anything from the ISS that has really been that interesting.

It's the pointless "Let's spend billions sending people up a few miles to circle the earth in a dangerous tin can for a few weeks" stuff that people don't give a shit about. A lot of stuff that the astronauts on the ISS do seems to be research into "why do things keep breaking and why do we keep getting sick?". Not really the sort of thing that gets people fired up.

Re:Public Attention (1)

WallaceAndGromit (910755) | about 5 years ago | (#28916883)

Hopefully people will realize how important the space program is, but something tells me that it won't be soon, and it won't be until we get something inspiring. Deep space voyages, while important, won't inspire anyone. Landing on the Moon or Mars? That will.

The biggest impediment to that PR vision is keeping the spam in the can alive to both land on the surface of Mars, in particular, and return to earth. Looking over the historical evidence, http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/log/ [nasa.gov] , it does not give a sense that we have a good handle on how to manage risk associated with unmanned science missions to Mars, let alone a manned missions which will require much more complexity. About half of all missions to Mars that have been attempted have failed. Killing people en route or crashing people on the surface of Mars does absolutely no good, and will likely yield the opposite of the desired PR outcome. I, for one, would like to see much better accounting for, and management of, the risk associated with both current unmanned Mars missions before attempting a simple PR stunt involving people. Science for the sake of science has it's place, and one is risk mitigation. And since everyone knows the moon is made of cheese http://www.wallaceandgromit.com/films/granddayout/ [wallaceandgromit.com] , so there is no need to go back there :)

Re:Public Attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916933)

A good space program that would advance science would take a huge ammount of money. The public is a very easily bored creature, just look what happened after Apollo 11.

I'm confused, are we running a science program or a PR campaign?

Re:Public Attention (1)

Tom90deg (1190691) | about 5 years ago | (#28917049)

We're running a PR campaign in order to get the money to run the science program.

Re:Public Attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917097)

It will be sooner than you think. Space race II has already practically started. It is the race to be the first to have a permanent presence on the moon. The real excitement will begin with China's first fly-by of the moon, which for all we know be in the pipeline as early as later this year. Just wait and see...

Rubbish (1)

Puff_Of_Hot_Air (995689) | about 5 years ago | (#28917267)

The reason the "science" space is not interesting to the average joe, is that it lacks the "human interest". I mean, look at the mars rovers. They became much more interesting once we anthropomorphised them; tough little guys lasting way longer then we thought they could. Same thing here. We need humans for the human interest; it doesn't matter much what they do exactly, just so long as it is "against the odds", and embodies the "human spirit". And I reckon a trip around Mars will bloody well do it. Years in space, impossibly far from human contact, unable to be assisted if anything goes wrong? Yeah thats human spirit in spades, against some pretty bloody big odds. It's like the polar expeditions of yester-year, except we'll get frequent updates. I say go for it, I couldn't give shit if they land on a bit of dirt or not.

We should be setting up colonies (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about 5 years ago | (#28916391)

We have enough rocks already.

Re:We should be setting up colonies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916471)

I agree, however, it sure seems as if we'd rather watch the uber-affluent achieve astronomically high piles of wasted wealth and personal power.

The human race deserves exactly the space development it's getting; which is, imho, total and utterly useless and expensive bureaucratic crap.

Why go all that way.. (2, Insightful)

Daemonax (1204296) | about 5 years ago | (#28916415)

Why go all that way and not send a few men down to the surface of Mars in a lander? Sure, it might be dangerous, but the whole mission of getting there would be dangerous too.

Re:Why go all that way.. (1)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about 5 years ago | (#28916621)

I can't help feeling that sending humans to Martian orbit and keeping them there in microgravity until the return to Earth trajectory window would be more dangerous than making a landing.

The critical problem that no-one has yet solved (although there are lots of ideas) is how to land humans or anything heavy onto the surface of Mars because of its thin atmosphere, which is worse than having no atmosphere at all.

Until those problems are solved, robots are still the best way to go.

Re:Why go all that way.. (1)

Fantom42 (174630) | about 5 years ago | (#28916629)

Why go all that way and not send a few men down to the surface of Mars in a lander? Sure, it might be dangerous, but the whole mission of getting there would be dangerous too.

Because weight is at an expensive premium when launching into space?

Re:Why go all that way.. (2, Insightful)

Dmala (752610) | about 5 years ago | (#28916669)

I think the idea is that you can simply orbit the planet in the same vehicle used to get there. A lander means you have to carry a separate vehicle which can land safely *and* can climb back out of the gravity well again, with all of the weight, complexity, and cost associated with that. Just orbiting and sending down some throwaway robot probes means the mission is less complex and cheaper by orders of magnitude, meaning it can be done in a much shorter timeframe.

Re:Why go all that way.. (1)

kestasjk (933987) | about 5 years ago | (#28916773)

When dealing with something as expensive as space travel the question "why not?" is a lot less pressing than the question of "why?"

That's seems to be a logical and reasonable plan. (1)

leftie (667677) | about 5 years ago | (#28916425)

What part of human experience ever made you think we do something logical and reasonable?

Once again short-changing the space program (1)

gvanbelle (1400327) | about 5 years ago | (#28916455)

Another sad turn for our once-glorious space program. The simple motivation here? Not wanting to spend money on the landers for lunar surface access, or the base(s) we'll build once we get there. The shuttle program was short-changed grievously during its design phase, and while its design was compromised, its mission expectations were not - and this led to catastrophe. Going down the path of expecting miracles without adequate funding for them will, once again, lead to grief.

Wrong (4, Informative)

feder (307335) | about 5 years ago | (#28916515)

A panel reporting to President Obama is recommending

The Augustine commision presents options - not recommendations.

Re:Wrong (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28917099)

What's the difference between saying 'my expert opinion is that this would be the best course of action' and 'I recommend this course of action' other than that the second form is slightly shorter?

logic is dull! (2, Insightful)

AliasMrAlias (1445453) | about 5 years ago | (#28916549)

yes its more logical, and cheaper, to send machines into space. its also logical, and cheaper to video conference than to work next to someone, but those things aren't the same. using immense quantities of energy and huge machines to propel humans across large distances is what half of the engineering sector is about (auto, mech, aero, lots of civil). Machines would do an admirable job, but humans EXPERIENCE it and, well, experience is half the fun. Without the fun engineering and science are just work. Space exploration is supposed to be exciting and inspiring, and robots on Mars are nowhere near as exciting as humans on Mars.

Re:logic is dull! (1)

rhyder128k (1051042) | about 5 years ago | (#28917307)

The snag is that there is a limited amount of funding and human space exploration is done at the expense of robotic exploration. Personally, I'd rather see increased robotic exploration of the moons of Jupiter, for example, than a mission to Mars.

No, we need stunts (1)

dotwhynot (938895) | about 5 years ago | (#28916563)

It so much more difficult to get a juicy conspiracy theory going around boring science. I was looking forward to the "we didn't really go to Mars" entertainment.

Re:No, we need stunts (1)

RobVB (1566105) | about 5 years ago | (#28917389)

I agree that we need stunts. Someone jumping through a ring of fire in a car on Mars, that'd get people's attention.

Ground to Orbit is the key (1)

Michael_gr (1066324) | about 5 years ago | (#28916565)

What NASA needs to concentrate on is making ground to orbit cheaper, then move on tonovative space drives such as VASIMR. Find a way to loft cargo to orbit without paying through the nose for each kilogram, and everything else becomes much easier. No point in going anywhere if it requires bazillions of dollars in disposable hardware.

Re:Ground to Orbit is the key (2, Informative)

Shadowmist (57488) | about 5 years ago | (#28917007)

At the moment, that takes physics which simply does not exist yet. Hard reality of ground to orbit is that you've got throw 90 percent of your spaceship's mass away to get there.

Re:Ground to Orbit is the key (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28917123)

Even with a space elevator, it's likely to be expensive. Building an efficient space elevator requires room-temperature superconductors. Without them, you're stuck with beaming power to the climber, which gives you a transmission efficiency of around 2%, maybe less.

Re:Ground to Orbit is the key (1)

jelle (14827) | about 5 years ago | (#28917405)

2%? Solar cells get up to 42% (20% thin film) and that is receiving 'beamed' power from far away... There must be a way to apply that technology there and get a much better number than 2%...

Martian Time Slip (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28916593)

than current rovers without the 10-minute time lag to Earth.

At opposition, the average round trip time (RTT) to Mars is 9 minutes.

At superior conjunction, the average RTT to Mars is 42 minutes.

At other times, the RTT will be in between these two values.

Both of these numbers will vary at the 10% level due to orbital eccentricities and inclinations, but, clearly, most of the time the RTT will be greater than 10 minutes.

However, this is almost irrelevant. All currently and planned rovers or landers use "bent-pipe tracking," where data is sent to an orbiter, and then the orbiter, sometime later, sends it to the Earth. This greatly increases the effective RTT (there are not orbiters passing over any given surface location at any time).

I believe that the Phoenix, the current rovers, and the Mars Science Laboratory all basically plan on an effectively daily RTT (i.e., at best one up and down link per day). These long effective RTTs and the use of orbiters to store-and-forward data are part of the motivation behind the efforts around Delay / Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN [dtnrg.org] ) - AKA the Interplanetary Internet.

We need to do landings (1)

erroneus (253617) | about 5 years ago | (#28916595)

I remember when the space shuttle was new. People were once again in awe of the space program. But the shuttle became as ordinary as a 747... which is, in a way, as it should be. Space transport became very routine and ordinary and more reliable as long as people were paying attention to the details. We need landing on bodies in space to be just as ordinary. So go land on the moon again. Go land on Mars. Go to planets that are hostile to human life and land there too. Our technology needs to be able to deal with all of those things. We need to be able to make habitable places where people can eventually do useful things or even colonize successfully in the future. Exploration via probes is useful and has its place, but the end game is our living out there and we need to be ready for it.

Money (1)

Pedrito (94783) | about 5 years ago | (#28916623)

The problem with the progressive approach is that going to orbit is one price and going past earth orbit throws you into an entirely different price bracket. One's expensive, one's ridiculously expensive. The price is so (I want to say astronomical) high, that it's far cheaper and easier to do a single really big step than it is to take baby-steps getting there.

Re:Money (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 years ago | (#28916987)

Low Earth Orbit is halfway to anyplace else in the Solar System.

Re:Money (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917031)

actually according to the math laid out in an essay in "A Step Farther Out" (ISBN-10: 0441785832, ISBN-13: 978-0441785834) once you get to orbit it just expensive, rather then ridiculously expensive to go anywhere else from there.

basically roughly half the cost to go anywhere is just getting to orbit.

too bad i'm ac and this might not be seen.

The Onsite advantage. (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | about 5 years ago | (#28916651)

One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

Probes work, but they are not necessarily the best option (unless maybe we can actually duplicate the longevity of spirit and opportunity).

Re:The Onsite advantage. (1)

jipn4 (1367823) | about 5 years ago | (#28916713)

One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

Sure, at 10000x the cost. And, of course, we wouldn't have done it yet. And, for that matter, we'd still need to send the probes to prepare.

In different words for the price of sending one man to Mars for a couple of months (or even a year), we can send hundreds of probes to every planet, planetoid, and major rock in the solar system.

Probes work, but they are not necessarily the best option

You yourself just concluded that they are.

(unless maybe we can actually duplicate the longevity of spirit and opportunity).

Of course we can. There is nothing particularly miraculous about Spirit and Opportunity's longevity; they were designed that way.

Re:The Onsite advantage. (1)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28916859)

One of the people on the mars lander program (specifically Spirit and Opportunity) stated that the amount of work done by the probes over the course of all the years they've been in operation could have been accomplished by one man in a month and a half.

Sure, at 10000x the cost. And, of course, we wouldn't have done it yet. And, for that matter, we'd still need to send the probes to prepare.

No, that's not true. The US Mars program has absorbed many 10's of billions of (current) dollars in the last 33 years. I would say that this is somewhere between 1/10 and 1/100 of the cost of a manned missions, not 10^-4. Just 2 weeks ago, Weiler was complaining that the unmanned Mars program needed another $ 1 billion per year to remain viable.

In different words for the price of sending one man to Mars for a couple of months (or even a year), we can send hundreds of probes to every planet, planetoid, and major rock in the solar system.

Also not true, for the same reason. And, oh, by the way, we had the chance to do that, and didn't. That experiment was tried and failed.

The trouble with relying on unmanned planetary exploration is that it is just too slow. Thirty three years, and we still haven't found liquid water on Mars (for example). (It almost certainly does exist, as parts of the surface are warm enough during the day and well above the triple point of water.) Don't get me wrong, lots of cool stuff has been found out, but at a glacially slow pace. And, all of those results will become historical footnotes about 1 week after the first manned expedition reaches Martian orbit.

Re:The Onsite advantage. (1)

Repossessed (1117929) | about 5 years ago | (#28916931)

So you know exactly how much it would cost to send a manned mission to mars? Do tell.

And no, S&O were only designed to last for 90 Martian days. Currently we're more than 20 times past that.

Re:The Onsite advantage. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917479)

And probably a different vehicle, cheaper than sending a person to mars (but more expensive than spirit and opportunity) could have also done it in a month and a half.

The fact that 'a person' can beat 'this human-operated robot' doesn't mean that 'people are better than machines' for a specific task...

Should have been done in 1973 (4, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 5 years ago | (#28916667)

I hope so. This should have been done IMHO in 1973 [galaxiki.org] .

People who have gone to the Air and Space Museum in DC may remember the "Skylab" space station there, which was actual flight hardware. What they may not realize is that this space station, the third state of a Saturn V, was intended to support manned deep space flight, starting with a Venus flyby in 1973. The idea was that the Saturn V third stage would be launched fueled, would be used to send 3 astronauts towards Venus (thus emptying it of fuel), the astronauts would then take up residence inside and the weight taken by the "LEM" in Lunar flight would have been used for food and other provisions. It would have been risky, but it could have been done.

I also remember discussions at about the same time about going to some of the Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) - even then, some were energetically easier to reach and return from than the Moon. Again, there is no need for a LEM (Astronauts could just space walk over in the weak gravity of any NEA), and the LEM's mass would have been used for provisions. All of this could have been done, if the USA hadn't have turned its back on space exploration 40 years ago.

Re:Should have been done in 1973 (3, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 5 years ago | (#28917189)

It would have been risky, but it could have been done.

Risky doesn't begin to cover it. Given the level of solar radiation around Venus, the only question is whether the astronauts would die of radiation sickness on the way back, or from cancer a few months later. If you want to go near Venus, you need something a lot better shielded than a Saturn V third stage. From a PR point of view, having astronauts dying in slow and painful ways just isn't a good choice.

Sometimes a project is cancelled because it really isn't a good idea.

Re:Should have been done in 1973 (1)

Thiez (1281866) | about 5 years ago | (#28917491)

> The idea was that the Saturn V third stage would be launched fueled, would be used to send 3 astronauts towards Venus (thus emptying it of fuel)

Maybe this is a really stupid question, but if they were going to run out of fuel on the way there, how were they going to return?

Second question: What would have been the point of a manned mission to venus? It's not like you would want to land there so why not send a probe (which would also eliminate the problem of returning to earth)?

Are these manned missions? (1)

physburn (1095481) | about 5 years ago | (#28916679)

Voyages to mostly empty null spots in the solar system, seem boring to me both from the point of view of space science and from the POV of human achievement. It would be worth it, if they were going to place permanent way stations, there. Even then, way stations are only worth it, if there somewhere to go on to.

---

Mars is fascinating, is there life there. What can we know about the history of the Solar System from there. Will it be easy to colonise. I think Mars and the Moon are both worth manned missions and permanent basis.

---

Its so damn expensive getting stuff up into space, and so useful having stuff up there. That is ought to be worth, have manufacturing and mining bases out there. These ought to be as robotic as possible. People on earth ought to be able to by shares in and operate asteroid mining ROV (remote operated vehicles) as fun investments. There is a lot of expensive metals up there, to make it worth while. Other manu factoring options, a chip foundry, solar cell plant, smelting for aluminium, iron and titanium (plenty Al, and Ti on the moon), oxygen from the moon-rock, hydrogen from the solar wind, carbon, methane from the asteroids. Space bases manufacturing for space based operations.

---

Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com] - Add your Feed if you have on topic

Been there, done that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916743)

People aren't interested in space because space sucks. The moon is one big rocky sonuvabitch, so is Mars. The rest of space is a big, bleak vacuum. Meanwhile, billions of people on Earth don't have enough to eat. Fuck space.

Re:Been there, done that (1)

dvice_null (981029) | about 5 years ago | (#28917009)

> billions of people on Earth don't have enough to eat

Billions? As in 2 or more billions? BBC news claims that it just recently hit only 1 billion:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger#Hunger_statistics [wikipedia.org]

An externally galvanizing event would help (1)

Daxx22 (1610473) | about 5 years ago | (#28916791)

Wether it's truly external (extraterrestrial) or fabricated (ie Watchmen) and large, globally effecting event would be great towards galvanizing the general human population towards looking up. Nor would it need to be a disaster like Hollywood likes to project, just something AMAZING.

Problem of public and Political support (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28916819)

we need a good reason to show why it is important for the economy and/or national security to have human presence in space, if humans in space became fundamental to one of those areas we are half way to conquering space, the other half (most difficult part) being having a compelling reason to travel to other star systems and built self sustaining stations elsewhere than earth orbit and surviving long enough as a civilization to achieve those goals
see the situation with the satellites now, they are fundamental for the economy and national security, if due to space debris a multi billion cleaning operation is required, the arguments in the congress will be about the cheapest or safest or more efficient way to do it, newer about the need to do it

L1? (1)

Megane (129182) | about 5 years ago | (#28916845)

I'm completely missing the point about why a mission to the earth/moon L1 point would be any kind of useful. About the only thing I'm aware of that point is useful for is putting a telescope to take really good pictures of the moon... but only the half of it that faces the Earth, since it's tidal locked with the earth. Better to having orbiting photo satellites... which we already have. But I can't see any point to sending humans there.

And if you want a "stunt" that doesn't take 2 years to finish the mission like Mars, how about when the ISS is "finished", instead of de-orbiting it, send up and attach some boosters to put it at L4 or L5. Then we can even forget about it for a decade or two before we go back.

Re:L1? (1)

OolimPhon (1120895) | about 5 years ago | (#28917317)

I'm completely missing the point about why a mission to the earth/moon L1 point would be any kind of useful.

Because it's a place that's relatively easy to get to and from, but is outside the magnetically protected area around Earth, unlike Low Earth Orbit, which is where the ISS is.

This means that it can be used to engineer deep space habitats in relative safety before someone pushes off to Venus/Mars/wherever. Any problems at L1, you can get back quicky and re-evaluate. Can't do that if you're on your way to Mars.

Robotic probes are not the answer (2, Insightful)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 years ago | (#28916927)

Sending robotic probes down from a manned orbiter is not the way to explore Mars, or anyplace else that we can send people. All a probe like that can do is things we planned for before the mission set out. If the designers didn't think of an experiment, there's little if any chance that the probe can be adapted on the spot to do it. Even if there's a way to load different instrument/manipulation packages into a robot before sending it down, you're still limited to what whoever it's loaded with. The whole point of exploration is that you don't (and can't) know in advance what you're going to encounter or what you might need to examine it and robots can't improvise. Yes, the team running the Mars Rovers has done wonders, but only within the narrow limits of what was built into the rovers in the first place. Robots can't react to the unexpected; you need a human for that, and sooner or later, it's going to happen.

Re:Robotic probes are not the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917201)

The odds of finding something unexpected within a safe distance of a human landing site are infinitesimal, unless you already knew that there was something unexpected there, before the mission was launched from Earth.

None of the satellites around Mars have found anything that interesting with any degree of certainty. We probably need more satellites around Mars, and better optics, before there can be any point in going there.

Re:Robotic probes are not the answer (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 5 years ago | (#28917415)

If a probe scrapes up a soil sample, and there's an odd-colored pebble exposed, that's something unexpected. The probe could do nothing about it, but a human could pick it up and examine it. Yes, that's a trivial example, but it does go to show that there's always room for the unexpected. And, if the odds of there being anything unexpected are so small, why go at all? Looking for the unexpected is what exploration is all about.

So... (1)

danwesnor (896499) | about 5 years ago | (#28916929)

With 2 meetings to go they already have "findings". Not a chance they had "findings" before they started this process, is there.

Wouldn't jobs keep the public interested? (2, Insightful)

revjtanton (1179893) | about 5 years ago | (#28916991)

Space travel creates new tech. New tech creates new jobs and new product to trade overseas. New tech is INCREDIBLY valuable. Why isn't this a point of interest in the space program? While I'd like to see people walk on Mars I will of course concede the point to those who comprised this panel as they are obviously more in-the-know than I am. We are capable of so much if we just learn to get over ourselves.

Just more of the same... politics in space. (1)

bigpat (158134) | about 5 years ago | (#28917025)

Space is not about science it is about exploration. The science is just a side show.

This panel sounds like just a way to justify cutting spending on NASA without making Obama sound like more of a wimp than Bush.

Cool Vistas? (1)

pngwen (72492) | about 5 years ago | (#28917085)

Vistas are never ever cool. I am going to hold out for NASA 7!

Energy Space (0, Troll)

varanama (820238) | about 5 years ago | (#28917107)

I hope Obama stops the space Programm and puts all it's fund to a "Let's solve the Energy Crisis in the following decade" programm.

At the moment: 25% of the Wolrd Population has acces to energy:
- Oil, Gas, Coal reserves will be over at 2050.
- Uranium reserves will be over between 2100-2150.

IF China's population gains acces to energy (electricity, heating...), the world population with acces to energy would go over the 50%. The thing is that with the actual economic growth of China, they will get acces in the short term (2020? who knows), but that would mean:
- Oil, Gas, Coal would be over before 2050.
- Uranium would be over before 2100.

At the moment we don't have any other MAIN energy sources. We have solar energy, which is a really low efficient energy source. We have wind, which has a medium enviormental cost and is not reliable enough to be a main energy source. And we have hydraulic powerplants, which are highly efficien 94% and highly reliable. But without normal temperature superconductors they can only supply certain regions of the world and their enviormental cost is tremendously big.

So we have x possibilities at the moment, some of them are:
1) Solving the energy crisis before we run out of energy (that means put all the money we have into solving it)
2) Enforce the use of the actual regenerable energies and improve the energetical efficiency of buildings to maximize energy savings (today this will only be a patch to decrease our energy expenses but it won't solve the energy problem in the long term)
3) Go to Mars, ignore the problem till it's too late, and then start praying and die, because No Energy => No Industry, No Research, No Progress => No solution for the energy problem.

So yes, space trips are cool and stuff, but can we do them after we have solve the stuff that matters ;) ? I mean, with the energy problem solved, we would have time till sxxx, global warming kill us all.

Re:Energy Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917299)

Right on the money... That' what JFK would do today...

Re:Energy Space (1)

Mondoz (672060) | about 5 years ago | (#28917449)

All the helium 3 we could ever want is just sitting up on the surface of the Moon.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium_3 [wikipedia.org]

But you're right. Before we go off to the Moon for a limitless supply of fuel, let's stay here and solve our problems without it first.

Science for Science's sake (5, Insightful)

bmajik (96670) | about 5 years ago | (#28917119)

is nice and many scientists seem to enjoy it.

But IMO, Buzz Aldrin (iirc) has the right point of view: from Kittyhawk to Apollo 11 was 66 years. It is an embarassment that we may not be able to put boots on Mars by 2035 --- which would be 66 years after Apollo 11. Human Flight -> Man on Moon shouldn't take less time than Moon->Mars.

If you want to argue that science doesn't concern itself with putting boots on Mars, fine, lots stop funding space science and get back to funding space engineering.

Any human being can understand these words: "the human race has set foot on a different planet". I look forward to the changes that will take longer to understand: what it will mean to the world pscyhe to know that we have demonstrated the possibility of escape, to know that there is a new world to explore, a new adventure to be had, etc. The re-colonization of the Americas by europeans co-incided with the beginning of the greatest leaps forward in technology, prosperity, and freedom (as long as you weren't brown at the time...) in world history. I am looking forward to seeing what shape the "discovery" of Mars will have on all of us.

Short of discovering God or alien life, no unmanned mission will ever get every single human being around the world simultaneously watching their TVs. That's the power of putting boots on Mars. There will be plenty of hard science and engineering to get us there. But having a single goal that any idiot can understand in just 1 statement: that's powerful, and it's worth working towards.

All well and good (3, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 5 years ago | (#28917153)

It's just fine for the government to aim at scientific achievements. Nothing wrong with that. But, the PURPOSE of exploration is to find homes, resources, and work for PEOPLE.

They want to stick permanent research stations (manned or otherwise) at the lagrange points? Cool. Put them up there, put beacons on them, so that real people who are pursuing real life don't run them over. Real life is much much more than just looking at stuff, and figuring out how it works. Real life means USING stuff. If NASA discovers a new crystal on Mars, something that man has never seen before, neither Joe Sixpack nor Aviator Alex is going to give a damn that science has learned something new. Both want to know how they can USE IT! Does it make a super cutting tool? Does it make the greatest lens ever imagined? Maybe it's a superconductor at room temperature, and it can be used in electronics? The best insulating material man has ever seen? If so, then someone is going to pay for transportation to go GET some of the stuff, so he can sell it to people!!

There is nothing wrong with science, but science isn't a goal, in and of itself. Science is a means to an end - the end being, to improve human life.

Sitting around on the earth, and speculating about if and when a moon sized comet might strike the earth certainly doesn't improve human life, or the chances of humanity's survival.

Get us off this rock (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about 5 years ago | (#28917203)

It's been mentioned here in the past, but what would combine the awe and excitement of a 'stunt', along with the progress of science, would be to establish a manned space station/city. It can be fairly near the Earth at first, and then progress further as appropriate.

Get us off this rock before a demented asteroid decides it wants a crash in party.

ET or God or extinction-level threat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917207)

Let's face it: until NASA can't come up with some proof of ET or God or an extinction-level threat from space, NASA and space exploration in general will never get the same center stage of attention of mankind as it was fourty years ago.

The population of Earth is much more interested in finding and switching over to cheap renewable energy from oil on this planet than anything else is space. That's where American science, politics, military should focus on, the way JFK was focusing on landing on the Moon.

Forget landings, properly planned permanent bases! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#28917245)

We need to forget the whole "landings" idea.

we need to properly plan permanent outposts with sufficient staff and resources.

There have already been methods developed to extract water from lunar soil, so basically you establish a base with a strong nuclear power facility and work from there.

Without permanence its a massive waste of money whether you land there or just orbit.

All steps are timid until someone dies (4, Insightful)

MrKaos (858439) | about 5 years ago | (#28917273)

I think one of the reasons that the general public lost interest is because the Apollo Astronauts made it look easy, it was only when peoples lives were at stake did people take interest. Perhaps with the exception of Landing on the moon and Yuri Gagarin it's so vapid that for the general public to appreciate something so amazing and risky they have to do it through a sense of television drama which causes, or nearly causes, a fatality.

People think space travel is routine, mundane, they are indifferent to it because they are suspended in their ignorance into thinking LEO is the same as moon or anywhere else in the solar system. They don't understand the difficulty.

As long as we do *something* it's great but I think this is worthwhile because it hasn't been done and also a bit easier than actually traveling into a gravity well. We go to Mars but we don't land would be worth it for the sheer prick tease value it would garner. I can just see Joe Sixpack sayin it now 'You mean we flew all the way there and we didn't land. - why don't we land that puppy.' There is a lot to be said for going to smaller gravity wells and building capability. Considering we haven't mastered the ability to construct long strand Carbon nanotube and build a terrestrial (or martian) space elevator why not utilise the technology we do have and construct a Moonstalk [wikipedia.org] . Surely by doing this it would be possible to gather resources and build further capability to utilise materials and construct infrastructure outside of our gravity well, allowing more ambitious achievements.

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