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The Best Near-Term Future of Space Exploration?

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the resources-beyond-imagining dept.

NASA 444

An anonymous reader writes "Much fanfare has been made about manned missions to moons and planets, but little has been done about travel to the asteroids — until now. NASA is working on plans for a trip to the asteroids by 2025. This type of mission has great potential for positive economic return based on the fact that no effort has to be spent on getting in and out of a distant planet's gravity well. Yes, we should go to the planets, but we should master mining the asteroid belt for resources first because it is easiest. What do you think?"

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It's a challenging game (3, Funny)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | about 4 years ago | (#33421660)

But someone has to play it.

Why mine the asteroids? (3, Funny)

ignavus (213578) | about 4 years ago | (#33421668)

Just tie a rope to them from your spaceship and tow them back to earth.

Re:Why mine the asteroids? (-1, Offtopic)

ignavus (213578) | about 4 years ago | (#33421684)

Wow. I actually got first post.

Can I have my own autograph?

Re:Why mine the asteroids? (-1, Offtopic)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421738)

Can I have my own autograph? No, but you can have this red "FAIL" sticker I have handy...

Re:Why mine the asteroids? (5, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421698)

I prefer to just sit there in the middle of the asteroids, spinning around while shooting missiles at them to break them into smaller and smaller pieces...

You need a soundtrack for your mission, cowboy. (1)

neiras (723124) | about 4 years ago | (#33422022)

Have a listen [tindeck.com] .

“Peep it, I’ll break it down so you can absorb it (okay)
You need to mind planets’ minerals and do it from orbit (yo)
Some good advice, and you’re too much of a noob to ignore it (ay)
You’ll get stranded with no fuel if you foolishly floor it
I used to rock microphones rhyming in a stadium (okay)
These days i launch probes mining for palladium (no doubt)”

Re:Why mine the asteroids? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33422156)

And what happens when the orbit gets miscalculated and the rock re-enters? Our very own meteorite impact, which will wipe out New York.

What do I think? (4, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421670)

If your goal is to set up self-sufficient colonies independent of Earth, the asteroid belt is the best place to do it. But I don't think it will be economically rewarding without our lifetime.

Re:What do I think? (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | about 4 years ago | (#33421714)

without our lifetime...

... being spent harnessing that technology?

Re:What do I think? (1)

gfunicus (633515) | about 4 years ago | (#33421756)

We need more vespene gas.

Re:What do I think? (2, Insightful)

icegreentea (974342) | about 4 years ago | (#33421934)

Why do you think that? I'm curious. Why not Mars orbit? It's not like the belt is actually that dense. I mean, you could blindly aim a spaceship through the belt, and as long as it can take collisions with pebble size objects, it'll almost certainly make it through unscathed. Most of its mass lies in few bodies. Putting a settlement on/around one of those would be just like putting one on any non-earth moon.

My thinking is that the best place to set up self sufficient colonies independent of Earth is to start in a location where they can be dependent on Earth. Bootstrapping and all. Once you build an self sufficient earth orbit, or lunar settlement, then you can get the hell out of there and do whatever, as long as your power and transport can scale.

Re:What do I think? (2, Interesting)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 years ago | (#33421962)

"But I don't think it will be economically rewarding without our lifetime."

Of course not, given the silly desire to send humans early in the game.

There isn't a good reason not to send forty or fifty or whatever remote-manned missions first. Humans would be along for the ride merely for the adventure, which is nice but can wait. If we want to mine space, don't increase the cost by having miners onsite.

The dumbest idea in the movie Total Recall was that there would be any need for human miners on Mars in the first place.

Re:What do I think? (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | about 4 years ago | (#33422090)

If we were able to park our craft on an asteroid with a stable and well known trajectory it seems to me that we could hitch a free ride to the outer planets. Granted we would need some serious boosters to attain sufficient escape velocity but if such an asteroid could be found it would solve some problems. We have some seriously bright minds at NASA/JPL so I don't believe I'm the first person to think of this. Europa anyone?

Re:What do I think? (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 4 years ago | (#33422148)

If we were able to park our craft on an asteroid with a stable and well known trajectory it seems to me that we could hitch a free ride to the outer planets. Granted we would need some serious boosters to attain sufficient escape velocity but if such an asteroid could be found it would solve some problems. We have some seriously bright minds at NASA/JPL so I don't believe I'm the first person to think of this. Europa anyone?

To land on an asteroid, using technology remotely related to what we have now, it's going to have to match the velocity of the asteroid. Doing that negates any energy savings gained by the technique. Alternatively we could do a normal gravitational boost off of an asteroid, but the eccentric ones probably don't weight enough to help much. Or we could make super durable probes that can handle a tens of km/s collision with the asteroid, in which case we can then get our cheap ride to wherever it goes.

Europa?!? (0)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33422162)

Dude, haven't you heard?

All these worlds
are yours except
Europa
Attempt no
landing there
Use them together
Use them in peace

Frickin' lameness filter...

Re:What do I think? (1)

SwampChicken (1383905) | about 4 years ago | (#33422158)

The sooner we get out there, the better...

Re:What do I think? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33422186)

Is that you, Stephen Hawking? [crunchgear.com]

Why mining? (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | about 4 years ago | (#33421692)

What would the asteroid miners ship back?

Re:Why mining? (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about 4 years ago | (#33421712)

That's what I've been wondering. What metals, exactly, are more common there than down on earth, what's worth the price of getting there? I'm having trouble imagining what could be worth the price tag...right now, at least, before we start running out of things.

Re:Why mining? (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33421846)

Every metal that we currently mine in the earth's crust. They're all plentiful in asteroids, and rare on Earth. In fact, everything that we currently mine (copper, iron, zinc, platinum, gold, etc.) came from asteroid impacts. During the early formation of the planet, when it was still mostly liquid, all those elements moved to the core, leaving only things like calcium and silicon and carbon in the Earth's crust when it cooled. All the useful elements came from asteroid impacts after that.

The amount of wealth in metals in the asteroids is nearly unimaginable. A single small asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars.

Re:Why mining? (4, Funny)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 4 years ago | (#33421932)

The amount of wealth in metals in the asteroids is nearly unimaginable. A single small asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars.

oh sure, its in a nice neighborhood and all; but the commute's a real bitch.

Re:Why mining? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33422006)

Compared to how much was spent on the Apollo missions, that one asteroid would yield a huge profit.

Re:Why mining? (1)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | about 4 years ago | (#33422134)

The Apollo missions were never intended to be commercially viable. Just a 20 billion dollar fuck you to the USSR.

Re:Why mining? (4, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33422212)

Doesn't matter. They were a whole series of missions, not just one mission, and they were done with technology far behind today's (especially computer technology). After what we've learned there, and with modern technology, we should be able to pull off a single asteroid mission for a similar cost. The big unknowns are 1) how to deal with sending people that far away, especially in regards to radiation, though keeping the trip short should alleviate that concern, and 2) how to actually extract minerals from the asteroid and bring them back to earth in quantities sufficient to make it viable. Should we capture the asteroid (assuming a fairly small asteroid here) and bring it to earth orbit, or mine it where it is (allowing us to work with much larger asteroids)?

Obviously, the first mission probably won't be profitable, but we just have to figure out how to scale it up.

Re:worth trillions? (5, Funny)

maxume (22995) | about 4 years ago | (#33421946)

If it was, it wouldn't be.

Re:Why mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33421910)

That's what I've been wondering. What metals, exactly, are more common there than down on earth, what's worth the price of getting there?

I'm having trouble imagining what could be worth the price tag...right now, at least, before we start running out of things.

The things that are there are already out of the Earth's gravity well, which means we don't have to launch them into space to use them. That's what's worth the price. If we were bringing stuff down to Earth, diamonds wouldn't be worth it.

Re:Why mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33421730)

What would the asteroid miners ship back?

EVE online accounts?

Re:Why mining? (4, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | about 4 years ago | (#33421734)

Rare earth metals, the easily mined deposits of which our civilization will probably have depleted in the next 50-100 years. Already there are serious concerns about switching to renewable energy sources based on the low availability of certain key resources.

Re:Why mining? (3, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421810)

I think you can go down pretty damn deep before "easily mined" from asteroids becomes more cost effective than "easily mined" here on Earth! You need to mine the asteroids for resources to use in orbit, not to send back to Earth.

Re:Why mining? (3, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33421938)

Mining stuff here on Earth makes a mess of our environment (more so in some places than others; here in the Arizona desert, it pretty much just results in an ugly pit, but in West Virginia, mountaintop-removal mining causes all kinds of ecological problems).

Now people (like China) are already talking about mining the sea floor, because we've depleted everywhere else. The sea floor is a much harsher environment than space for humans; in space, you just need to design a vessel that can contain a measly 1 atmosphere of pressure. Sending people underwater is much harder since you have to design your craft to keep hundreds or thousands of atmospheres of pressure out. Of course, you can do a lot of work with ROVs, but there's still a lot of technical challenges there because of the depth, and the presence of (very high-pressure) water all around. Space is relatively easy to work in. The only problem is getting out of our gravity well.

Digging deeper into the crust isn't exactly safe, either. Ask the miners in Chile who are still trapped underground.

Re:Why mining? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33422072)

The ocean floor is a heck of a lot easier to work on and still be home in time for dinner! Remote controlling equipment even in the deepest part of the ocean gives you a lot better ping times then remote controlling equipment in the asteroid belt, i.e. milliseconds versus months of round-trip delay time. The solar system is fucking BIG!

Re:Why mining? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33422112)

You don't need to go to the asteroid belt to find asteroids; there's a bunch of them near Earth's orbit. I don't know what NASA's plans are, but it seems like it'd be easier to target one of those.

Re:Why mining? (1)

the gnat (153162) | about 4 years ago | (#33422178)

The only problem is getting out of our gravity well.

Not only are you forgetting about cosmic radiation, which is a severe hindrance, you're vastly oversimplifying the problem of the gravity well, since sustaining a human presence on an asteroid would require regular shipments of supplies at exorbitant cost. I'm also curious how you expect the raw materials to make it back down to Earth. Actually refining many of these metals in space would also be a pain in the ass, but landing asteroids wouldn't be very easy either.

Which elements are actually that rare, anyway? For instance, Wikipedia claims that "The main mining areas [for gadolinium] are China, USA, Brazil, Sri Lanka, India and Australia with reserves expected to exceed one million tonnes. World production of pure gadolinium is about 400 tonnes per year." That's a lot to ship back from the asteroids, and I'm not sure I see any financial benefit.

Re:Why mining? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33422116)

Agreed, mining asteroids is like driving from Florida to California to fill up on gas.

Re:Why mining? (2, Interesting)

moozoo (1308855) | about 4 years ago | (#33421780)

Nothing... They would use the materials to build space habitats...

alternatives for shallow gravity wells (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | about 4 years ago | (#33421710)

if they want a shallow gravity well, the moons of mars would make a good target. http://xkcd.com/681_large/ [xkcd.com]

Re:alternatives for shallow gravity wells (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 years ago | (#33421806)

Except that Phobos and Deimos are both well down in the gravity well of Mars. Asteroids orbiting the sun are much easier to get to, especially those with orbits which cross the orbit of Earth.

Re:alternatives for shallow gravity wells (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33421900)

To be fair, the moons of Mars are really nothing more than small asteroids that have been captured by Mars' gravity so that they orbit it. They're very small and irregularly shaped.

However, it seems to me the easiest target would be an asteroid that's in an Earth-crossing solar orbit, or so other nearby asteroid. You don't have to go all the way to the asteroid belt to find asteroids.

Re:alternatives for shallow gravity wells (1)

osgeek (239988) | about 4 years ago | (#33422010)

Came here for a reference to the XKCD about this posted today... I gotta do everything myself? http://xkcd.com/786/ [xkcd.com]

The concept that asteroids are easiest is ... (2, Interesting)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33421716)

The concept that space exploration to mine asteroids is easiest is, itself, questionable.

Each asteroid has a larger chance of inter-asteroid impacts.

Perhaps a better choice might be one of the moons of Mars, so that we can build a giant space ladder our robot overlords can climb up on the way to invading us?

Re:The concept that asteroids are easiest is ... (1)

yyxx (1812612) | about 4 years ago | (#33421802)

Larger than what? You're still much more likely to die from the trip or radiation-induced cancer.

Re:The concept that asteroids are easiest is ... (2)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 4 years ago | (#33421916)

Unless you convert a NEO asteroid into a radiation shielded rocket that has an ion drive that consumes the asteroid itself.

Belters! (2, Interesting)

arcsimm (1084173) | about 4 years ago | (#33421748)

IMO an asteroid mission is far and away the best choice for manned exploration. They have practically nonexistent gravity wells, making exploration relatively cheap, and depending on the target selected, could support making life support volatiles and rocket fuel in-situ. A good-sized nickel-iron NEO, on the other hand, could be an excellent prospecting opportunity -- depending on how big it is, it could supply enough iron to sate Earth's steel demand for a century or more -- or it could be used as a resource cache to bootstrap space-borne manufacturing. Mining space rocks isn't as glamorous as the moon or Mars, but the cost/benefit analysis strongly favors the asteroid.

Re:Belters! (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421850)

Sure, but you've really go to watch out for those giant worms hiding in caves in the asteroids!

Re:Belters! (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 years ago | (#33421986)

There is no urgency to manned missions. We already mechanize as much mining on Earth as possible, to cut costs which include expensive miners (who get killed, maimed, and expensively buried for month).

If we want to mine space resources, don't bring people, make remote systems so good we won't need humans onsite.

Re:Belters! (2, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 years ago | (#33422160)

A good-sized nickel-iron NEO, on the other hand, could be an excellent prospecting opportunity -- depending on how big it is, it could supply enough iron to sate Earth's steel demand for a century or more -- or it could be used as a resource cache to bootstrap space-borne manufacturing.

OK, serious question here, because I'm baffled.

How do we return any actual meaningful mass from an asteroid? How do we push it home? What it the source of the push?

Do we send up rockets that are carrying rockets that then bring it home? ('Yo, Dawg, I hear you like rockets ... ;-)

I assume it's cheaper because it's closer than Mars ... but, it would have to be a really good payout for the economics to make any sense, no? That's one hell of a lot of energy to move that much mass around space.

Thar's gold in them there asteroids! (1)

DrHeasley (1059478) | about 4 years ago | (#33421754)

As the remains of planetary building blocks, the asteroids may contain an incredible wealth of minerals, easily accessible compared to other planetary bodies, and easily evaluated. Picture gold nuggets in space.

Re:Thar's gold in them there asteroids! (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421822)

Picture the old grizzled prospector and his faithful burro, quickly asphyxiating due to lack of oxygen! It's a lot easier to get air and climate control into even a 10-mile deep hole in the ground than it is to get it out to the asteroid belt.

Re:Thar's gold in them there asteroids! (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 4 years ago | (#33421912)

As the remains of planetary building blocks, the asteroids may contain an incredible wealth of minerals, easily accessible compared to other planetary bodies, and easily evaluated. Picture gold nuggets in space.

Operative word: "may"

I however, doubt that asteroids contain an "incredible wealth of minerals. Useful mineral deposits on earth are formed from heating and pressure. It's unclear that asteroids are / were subject to these forces. It may just be a bunch of low grade rock.

The 'easily accessible / evaluated' part is also a bit premature. We've just barely landed a couple of robots on the surface of an asteroid. Bruce Willis still has his work cut out for him.

Economic sense? (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 4 years ago | (#33421764)

Anonymous reader (probably a PR flack for Science) said: "This type of mission has great potential for positive economic return based on the fact that no effort has to be spent on getting in and out of a distant planet's gravity well."

Let's see, from TFA: "Hopkins said that a basic six-month human mission to an asteroid could return about 100 kilograms of samples collected from different spots on the space rock." OK, so you fly directly to the solid gold asteroid and pick up 100 KG of that. That's 3527 ounces. At $1230/ounce, that's about $4.3M. And you need to make a profit.

If you can plan, support, launch and recover the mission to the solid gold asteroid for less than $4M, my hat's off to you.

Re:Economic sense? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421904)

You forge the gold into a landing module and use a mass-accelerate to bring it back to earth. You leave your mining equipment out there to get more precious materials until it stops functioning. Bringing your labor force back to Earth is a mistake; then you have to pay them! Actually, you use robotic miners so you don't have to recover them. Ever heard of Self-replicating machines [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Economic sense? (2, Informative)

shoehornjob (1632387) | about 4 years ago | (#33422228)

You forge the gold into a landing module and use a mass-accelerate to bring it back to earth.

Gold lander module meets atmosphere at oh 18 thousand mph http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle#Re-entry_and_landing [wikipedia.org] and said lander becomes gold soup. At this point your profit is pretty much fucked but you've got a really nice gold streak in the sky.

Nuke them (2, Interesting)

moozoo (1308855) | about 4 years ago | (#33421768)

They should visit a number of different types of asteroids and nuke them to see the effect. Its really important knowing what will and won't work in protecting the planet from an asteroid impact. We have zero experience in how effective nuclear weapons are in deflecting or distinguishing asteroids. I don't think we want to be doing this when threatened by a large asteroid collision.

Re:Nuke them (1)

xMilkmanDanx (866344) | about 4 years ago | (#33422190)

the physics of it don't pan out though. any asteroid large enough to be a significant threat is not something we could damage with current nuclear yields and making larger bombs, while possible, would be more dangerous to have here than the remote chance of an asteroid impact.

we'd be better off investigating other means of modifying an asteroids path such as solar sails, robotic mass drivers, parking a small mass near it for gravitational deflection to name a few.

NASA? (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 4 years ago | (#33421774)

Nasa is going to the asteroid belt? Oh, they're making another video game.

Mine the asteroids first, of course (0)

walmass (67905) | about 4 years ago | (#33421782)

Or you know those dang aliens will stake a claim first and ambush us at the dry gulch.

For some very good science fiction about this, read the Manifold series by Stephen Baxter [amazon.com]

Mining, materials, machining, construction... (1)

Lije Baley (88936) | about 4 years ago | (#33421788)

We need to automate these functions on Earth, as well as in space. Labor has to be replaced from the bottom up to preserve stability and peace. The mass of our spaceships has to originate in space.

Welcome to Earth (2, Insightful)

orangepeel (114557) | about 4 years ago | (#33421790)

I'm disappointed it's a negative reaction that actually prompted me to log in for the first time in a over a year, but this story is crazy. The whole idea is crazy. Not because of technological limitations, but because we don't have a prayer of paying for it.

A few days ago, copponex wrote [slashdot.org] :

"America is basically like a 7-11 that's about to go under. The shelves are barely stocked, the sign has been broken for months, and nobody really gives a shit because they've been watching the boss raid the cash drawer for years."

I want to believe NASA could pull this off -- and by 2025 -- but I think it's tragically unrealistic from a financial perspective.

Re:Welcome to Earth (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421928)

We've got the worlds best military. When we run out of money, we just invade some other puny little countries and take their stuff. What part of being the world's biggest bully do you not understand?

Re:Welcome to Earth (2, Informative)

orangepeel (114557) | about 4 years ago | (#33421958)

If you're trying to make me feel better:

1) Thank you.
2) It's not working. :-(

Re:Welcome to Earth (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33422036)

I'm joking. The real answer is that "America" shouldn't be paying for space exploration, "Earth" should be paying for space exploration. It is only because we have militarized space that every country feels they need their own private space program. Get everybody to work together for a common goal, and nobody else will give a shit about the decline of the American empire, which has already started, by the way. Within the next few decades, China will become the leading economic superpower, then they can foot the lion's share of the bill for space exploration. Your problem is your clinging to the viewpoint of wanting only what is best for America, rather than what is best for the human species as a whole.

Re:Welcome to Earth (1)

maxume (22995) | about 4 years ago | (#33422238)

You are misapprehending what money and debt are (one is a mechanism that largely makes transactions more convenient and the other is a mechanism that allows a buyer to pay using cash flow rather than reserves).

The real problems only start when we run out of productive capacity and resources (according to internet bile, the U.S. is out of the former already and doesn't know how to do anything interesting with the latter).

Re:Welcome to Earth (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 years ago | (#33421976)

If we stopped wasting so much money on foreign wars and bailing out mismanaged companies, we could easily afford it. 50 or 100 billion dollars should be enough to fund this, and that's nothing compared to how much money we've wasted in Iraq.

Re:Welcome to Earth (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 4 years ago | (#33422008)

NASA could pull of plenty if it skipped sending humans for fifty or seventy-five years then spent the time perfecting the robots we must have anyway to effectively exploit what we find.

If the mission is really "exploration" then send (lots of) remotely-manned missions.

I agreed for different reasons... (1)

starglider29a (719559) | about 4 years ago | (#33422054)

Quoting myself:

"There is nothing 'out there' that is worth the cost of going. Forget that motivation. Does that mean we shouldn't go? No, but it means we've passed the Point of No Return on Investment!"

Michael Gavon on 'Rocket Science [af2k.com] ' ©1990

For example: Mining the asteroids for Unobtanium. To mine the Unobtanium, you need to lift the mining equipment to the asteroid. Bring or get the energy to mine it. Load it and de-orbit it from the Belt to Earth AND THEN STOP IT. You can work some cool tricks (slingshots, balutes, solar sails, whatnot) but the energy remains the same. The amount of energy to get something there and back is IMMENSE. You will NEVER recoup that money spent on energy and structure by selling what you bring back. Remember the payload of rocks from Apollo.

The only thing up there that MIGHT pay for itself is an energy source, like Dilithium. Nothing else is worth it.

Find another motivation. Today's XKCD [xkcd.com] might help, or it might explain why it WON'T work.

You decide... and decide you must. If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice ;-)

This is EXACTLY what NASA should do (1)

DesScorp (410532) | about 4 years ago | (#33421796)

Since real manned exploration of Mars is a pipe dream at this point (both technologically and financially), a manned trip to an asteroid is just the ticket if you want to stay in the manned exploration business. The Moon? Been there done that. Mars? Can't do that yet. Asteroids are do-able, and when it comes to manned exploration, fairly cheap. Unless we're going to abandon manned exploration completely, then an asteroid is the next logical "First" for NASA.

Re:This is EXACTLY what NASA should do (2, Interesting)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421948)

Why manned? Sending robots on a one-way mission is always going to be an order of magnitude cheaper than sending humans and safely bringing them back home. However, sending humans on a one-way mission may be cheaper still!

Priorities (1)

airfoobar (1853132) | about 4 years ago | (#33421798)

First we have to ask ourselves, how many people can our planet sustain? 10 billion? 15 billion?
Then we have to ask, how long before we reach that many? 100 years? 200 years?
Then we have to ask, what resource is going to run out first? Drinking water? Food? Air?

When we have those answers, we will be able to discuss which is best to spend money and effort on, mining the asteroid field or getting off this damn rock.

I'd say the stuff we can get in the asteroid field will run out long after we've run out of the bare necessities, so we should concentrate on going to a new planet terraforming it.
IF we only have 100--200 years left on this planet, that's "near-term future" enough for me.

Re:Priorities (2, Informative)

mangu (126918) | about 4 years ago | (#33421950)

First we have to ask ourselves, how many people can our planet sustain? 10 billion? 15 billion?

We don't know for sure.

Then we have to ask, how long before we reach that many? 100 years? 200 years?

We don't know for sure.

Then we have to ask, what resource is going to run out first? Drinking water? Food? Air?

We don't know for sure.

When we have those answers, we will be able to discuss which is best to spend money and effort on, mining the asteroid field or getting off this damn rock.

This we know for sure: unless we do serious research we will never get the answer to any important question. And unless we are ready to research many different alternatives we will never be sure of our answers.

I think we should consider all possibilities and chose which one has the better probability of success. Exploring the asteroids seems to offer some interesting possibilities. At least there's an intrinsic advantage in getting resources from them, compared to any planet or moon in the solar system, given the different gravity wells.

Re:Priorities (1)

cdrguru (88047) | about 4 years ago | (#33422018)

First we have to ask ourselves, how many people can our planet sustain? 10 billion? 15 billion?

Realize that if the idiots have their way the right answer is 250 million. If you want to lock down the Earth and treat it as a closed system, this is probably a reasonable limit.

The first step is to make sure the idiots do not succeed. Probably part A of that plan is making sure that space exploration isn't pushed aside for "solving Earthbound problems first" because that is the same as "never".

NASA can have all the plans they want, but the current administration seems to be focused on cutting them off at the knees. Private companies are fine and a welcome addition - as long as FAA and EPA are on board with the plan. Currently you need a license to launch just about anything bigger than a model with an Estes engine and these agencies are not known for generosity or understanding. It is also my understanding that licenses are exceedingly tough to get and a good part of the reason we haven't seen private companies launching stuff into orbit from the US.

How about a Mexican launch facility? Launching out over the Gulf? Ben Bova wrote a number of books describing a laser launching facility just over the border in different parts of Mexico - partly because I think he understands the licensing problems. The question is, what would Mexico say and how much cash would it take to make them change their mind?

I would think we could have nearly weekly launches of LEO satellites and work up to geosynchrous. There is plenty of money to be had just launching satellites and if it could be done cheap enough with low enough cost it would be a way to get things rolling.

Re:Priorities (1)

computechnica (171054) | about 4 years ago | (#33422028)

How about we work on figuring out a way to stop reproducing like rabbits. Until we have a world wide control on population levels we are doomed to continuously suffer from famines and poverty on ever larger scales. The whole idea of terraforming Mars is a pipe dream due to the lack of a magnetic field to provide protection from the Sun. Mars may have been wet at some point but its core cooled down to quickly and lost its magnetosphere and most of It's atmosphere. Until we can produce a Warp drive or build generational spaceships Earth will be our primary home. It's time to start seriously protecting it from ourselves.

Its a good choice (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 years ago | (#33421832)

Apollo had enough delta-V for a mission to a near earth asteroid, and could have made the duration with a stretched service module for more life support. The design issue is whether to build a big, slow vehicle, or a small, fast vehicle. The slow option gives you more to build on for the future. The fast option has less risk because a quick return to Earth is built in from the start.

Re:Its a good choice (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33421982)

Once again, that "return to Earth" is your biggest money waster. One-way trips are an order of magnitude cheaper. Big, slow vehicles with a multitude of redundant robotic self-replicating explorer/miners are the way to go. If they can find enough material to make copies of themselves faster than they break down, than the whole operation is self sustaining. Just don't be surprised in a few thousand years when they evolve to the point where they come back and take over the Earth!

Re:Its a good choice (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 years ago | (#33422052)

It would work if we were going to commit to a colony somewhere like Titan or Mars, but there would have to be continuous expenditure. An unmanned supply every year and new man power every ten years, perhaps. It would be interesting how many qualified people you would find. You need people who have no interest in having children. who don't want to live on Earth (be able to go for a walk in the bush, etc) and who are not interested in the social aspects of living in a large community.

Once you selected people who satisfy those criteria, would your candidates be mentally healthy enough to trust them with the mission?

Re:Its a good choice (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#33422114)

You need people who have no interest in having children. Or have already had their children, i.e. "old people". You need people who don't see a qualitative difference between living in the Mom's basement downloading porn all day and living in a tin can 100 million miles from home and downloading porn all day. All real work in extreme environments should be done by robots. Very few humans are needed to work around the speed-of-light propagation delays in running everything from back on Earth, i.e. humans are only needed to handle unexpected situations.

Re:Its a good choice (1)

slashqwerty (1099091) | about 4 years ago | (#33422192)

Apollo was completed in less than ten years. That occurred with very little prior knowledge and the threat of a Russian moon hanging over us. Even with that Congress canceled the last two Apollo missions.

This program is planned to take 50% longer than Apollo building upon what we already know. Frankly, any manned mission scheduled to take longer than Apollo will be canceled before it gets off the ground. Between now and 2025 there will be four presidential elections. That is potentially four wishy-washy politicians who will use NASA as a bargaining chip to get their preferred legislation passed. If they were at all serious about this, they would be scheduling to complete it within six years.

This program is just fungible pork-barrel politics. It sends money to certain congressional districts and it can be canceled before anyone has to deliver working results.

Rigth place, wrong goal (2, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | about 4 years ago | (#33421834)

Not sure if mining the asteroids will have an economical impact down here on earth. But what should be explored there is what we can do. Can we live there? Can we make self-sustained enough stations with materials found there? What about new ships or propulsing fuel? Good part of the cost and ecological impact of space exploration is actually getting into space, leaving planet gravity well. But if most of the needed resources are already out and we can have enough people there in a semi permanent basis, we can start thinking in more advanced space exploration and colonization, maybe getting cheap enough resources (think for what was used the space station in the movie Moon). Of course that are several practical problems, but could we solve them?

A Known Quantity. (3, Interesting)

Banichi (1255242) | about 4 years ago | (#33421836)

An approach to space exploitation (and thus exploration) has been known for decades.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_High_Frontier:_Human_Colonies_in_Space [wikipedia.org]

Gerard K. O'Neill wrote this book decades ago, and I see no reason to deviate from the basic plan described within.

choices arenot that easy (1)

aurizon (122550) | about 4 years ago | (#33421842)

The rocky asteroids would need to be looked at one by one to see if there is value in them, maybe rare earths? Indoim etc?. The nickel iron asteroids may be valuable for nickel, and platinum group elements.
Obviously a way to get them from outer space to the local foundry would need to use an ablative method to de-orbit them in suitable sizes in suitable locations to allow recovery. The rocky ones tend to fragment. The metal ones can melt and if they are small enough might hitn the ground in such a way thery can be recovered. Big ones will hit at miles per second and splatter.
So carefule economic decision will have to be made on each asteroid and each metal contained. Only a few will be worthwhile. As time goes by and we use up easy metals on earth this will shift, but we have 300 years of most metals now, but the rare earths have a smaller reserve

Unobtanium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33421898)

Title says it all....

I kid, I kid. More people in space doing more things to further the quality of life or increase the chances of everyday people traveling in space, please.

nasa = no thanks! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33421924)

news radio episode where the boss is in the tin foil lined room

yeah, nasa, i'll believe anything you say, NOT

Put me in charge. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33421956)

I will boostrap mankinds future in space in several easy steps. Pricetag: $20 billion+ (5% of Iraq war budget). Difficulty: Moderate (Could have been done in 70s/80s).

1) Stop pissing about with remote controlled rovers that get stuck in sand and build on Project Orion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)* [wikipedia.org] with a single-stage-to-deepspace 20,000 ton one shot mission. On the way it drops of a permanent crew on mars and a mining operation to the asteroid belt, along with dozens of probes, space telecopes into various solar orbits and the vehicle then loops through the jovian moons and returns to the earth to be orbital habitat and manurfacturing platform for the inbound materials from the asteroids.

2) Wait, 1 will be enough...

*Screw the greenies, seriously this is a one time thing with endless pay back. Alot could be done to clean up nuclear fallout, at least for the lower stage (cleaner thermonuclear bombs for example, alternative reactions that don't produce dangerous such products).

It ain't sexy (1)

vinn (4370) | about 4 years ago | (#33421974)

NASA needs high profile missions that inspire awe. They need to build excitement and inspire awe. They need to thrive on whiz-bang technology and showcase what the human spirit is capable of achieving. Those are the fundamentals the space program is built on. For the last twenty years they've sucked at it.

I don't want to pass too much judgement on landing on hunks of rock a couple of AU's away, but it sure doesn't seem too sexy to me. I think most people get excited about other things. Throw some rovers on a red planet, give them a lifespan of a few months, and then watch everyone be amazed when they last five years. New Horizons should get everyone fairly excited when it gets out there. Heck, even Cassini can still generate some excitement. (The spaceflight electronics I worked on for Huygen's are now sitting on Titan and I find that incredibly cool.) But landing on a rock? Um... yeah... not really too into that. Oh, it has a lot of iron deposits or strangetanium? Be sure to poke me to wake me up when that news comes out.

NASA needs to go big. I know these new probes can be done on a shoestring budget, say $200 million or so. But please go build us a new heavy lift rocket and shoot some guys into space. Most of us haven't seen a man land on the moon in our lifetime, so can we just try that again?

First things first (1)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | about 4 years ago | (#33421980)

We should master to blow asteroids away from Earths trijectory first.

Re:First things first (1)

taustin (171655) | about 4 years ago | (#33422218)

It would be more useful to master basic spelling first.

What happened? (3, Interesting)

BigSes (1623417) | about 4 years ago | (#33421990)

Excuse the vent, but NASA has become lame as hell nowadays. What happened? From the space race in the 60s forward 50 years to now, isn't anyone else disappointed? I'm 31, and I was so excited growing up in the 80s, I couldn't imagine what I was going to see. Now, it seems to have all slowed to a crawl. Sure, Hubble gave us some amazing photos and scientific data, but where have the grand leaps and bounds in technology and sheer drive to explore been? Now, we have Obama hamstringing the space program as well, cancelling programs left and right. 2025? Ill be nearly 50, and I'd bet yet to see a man on Mars. I guess I assumed it would happen in my lifetime, and much earlier, even by 2010 at the rate things seemed to have been advancing. The idea of this is cool and all, but I really hoped we would push the envelope a bit harder, like the good old days. Sorry, I guess I'm just underwhelmed and disappointed.

Re:What happened? (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 4 years ago | (#33422110)

Nixon wanted to get out of manned spaceflight. Follow-on Apollo's were canceled, the Venus fly-by was canceled (you can see the crew module at the Air and Space Museum, except it's labeled "Skylab"), the Saturn V was thrown away, the Germans and Americans from the 1930's were all retired, from Von Braun on down, the middle-engineering of Apollo was all fired (I remember PhDs pumping gas in Florida), and what was left was the bureaucrats. Bureaucrats can run things, but they won't give you grand leaps.

mining (1)

hyperion2010 (1587241) | about 4 years ago | (#33422024)

asteroid mining all the way, it is too expensive to launch the raw materials we need from inside our gravity well, in situ resources are key to any real success

hell, I've had crazed thoughts about starting a company to do asteroid mining in about 10 years once commercial space launches come down and vasimir is working better

Really? (1)

WankersRevenge (452399) | about 4 years ago | (#33422056)

I used to love NASA but these days, I wouldn't bet a nickel that they could make it to the nearest gas station with a GPS, atlas, and police escort to guide them. Honestly, if they were somewhat independent of the political process and could exist as an autonomous institution, they may have a chance. But, there's no way their priorities will remain set for fifteen years when they couldn't even last five years. Hell, I don't think they'll make it the next five years without any public facing launches. The fact that they aren't even selecting a design for a heavy lift vehicle in five years is just insane. Not to mention the slow execution of the Orion capsule. Obama can talk all he wants about revitalizing manned space exploration, but the truth is, he's smothering it with a pillow. I'm guessing if Obama gets elected 2012, he'll either gut the program, or put off this asteroid mission to some nebulous point in the future so another administration might be able to kill it entirely.

Near-Term (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33422068)

Mining asteroids sounds good and all, but to make it practical we need a cheaper way of getting things off of this rock. It will be the private companies, the Scaled Composites' and SpaceX's of the world, who make that possible.

Re:Near-Term (0, Redundant)

oljanx (1318801) | about 4 years ago | (#33422078)

And I posted as AC on accident again...

I think that this is a good idea (1)

mbone (558574) | about 4 years ago | (#33422070)

Apollo could have reached some of the Near Earth Asteroids. This would have been a good idea in the 1970's, and it would be a good idea now.

Good God, please stop already! (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | about 4 years ago | (#33422092)

This type of mission has great potential for positive economic return... we should master mining the asteroid belt for resources first because it is easiest.

Positive economic return? How much would it cost to go get 1000 tons of, say, bauxite and extract the aluminum? How much would the resulting aluminum cost to produce? Would there be a "positive economic return?" Answer 1) bringing it back to earth, 2) doing it off-planet (you still need to bring back the aluminum, though). Include the cost of building the presumably amortizable off-planet refining facilities. Since you are making that ludicrous claim, it is up to you to substantiate it.

What's the point (3, Insightful)

phrostie (121428) | about 4 years ago | (#33422138)

I know this is going to sound like a troll, but what's the point.
nasa has become nothing but a pet poodle that each new administration scraps the work of the previous one and wastes all the funding that went into it for some new vision.

I used to love space and nasa, but now days i just get annoyed.

I'm starting to agree with putting space in the private sector but not for the reasons the current admin' says.
i want space exploration out of the hands of the politicians.

exit soap box.

Why? (1)

SolarStorm (991940) | about 4 years ago | (#33422140)

My view of the initial space race was that it was more of a political statement of "look how advanced we are! we can fly to the moon!" disguised as science. Sure it was exciting, but the real gain was in politics. Today, its just doesnt carry the political "wow" factor. Who cares when the average small country has the bomb. Robots were always better than sending people anyhow. As for mining, there are mines on the earth that are much more profitable to mine. You think we have issues with some miners down in a hole for 2 months, how are we ever going to lift that much into space and then get it back down without it burning up? We cant even mine the ocean floor effectively... Why head to space?

Practical exploration (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 4 years ago | (#33422180)

Go find a big chuck of uranium floating around out there and put the energy debate to bed once and for all.

Solar flare protection (1)

wisebabo (638845) | about 4 years ago | (#33422204)

One advantage to being on, or in "orbit" around an asteroid or other small body (like the moons of mars), is that it is relatively quick and easy to change and hold one's position relative to that body. So if the astronauts see a solar flare coming they just move into the shadow and hang out there for the few hours it takes for it to pass. No expensive delta-v, no digging in the dirt.

Of course Arthur C. Clarke foresaw this in his story about a visit to the asteroid Icarus.

There's gold in them there floating hills! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33422210)

It is entirely possible that there is a solid gold asteroid out there. SOLID. GOLD. How's that for a return on investment?

"Belt"? Wrong Rocks (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | about 4 years ago | (#33422232)

There are near Earth objects of all types that would far easier to get to than in between Mars and Jupiter. Mining would be simpler. Solar observatories could be landed on L4/L5 Earth Trojans for better stability and longer life (no station keeping necessary). Get some samples from Cruinthe and figure out if it's truly a second body formed from our pre-solar neighborhood or an interloper.

And sooner or later someone is going to have to start practicing moving these things around so we're ready to if an when the time comes. According to the latest SENTRY data the cumulative impact probability of all known and tracked Earth orbit crossing objects with potential intersections is just over 1.5% for the next century, and they figure they've found around 10% of them. Sure, the big ones are too hard to move. The smaller ones aren't. If a bigger one's coming, hitting it with a smaller one (or more) makes more sense than throwing nukes at it.

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