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NASA Looking For Ideas To Explore Mars

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the a-little-help-here dept.

Mars 176

ZeroExistenZ writes "NASA plans to make another trip to Mars in 2018 for which they want to devise a plan by this summer. To come up with ideas for this mission, they turn to the public to tackle a few challenge areas. Participants must submit a brief abstract (no more than two pages) outlining the idea, and indicating in which of the topical areas the idea belongs. Abstracts are due no later than 5:00 p.m. U.S. Central Daylight Time May 10, 2012."

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FROSTY P1SS (-1, Offtopic)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39695979)

uses some sort of robot!

apostrophe catastrophe (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39695987)

what exactly belongs to the idea?

Here is my idea: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696011)

Stop spending my fucking money on this shit! We're hemorrhaging cash in this country and nobody seems to even care.

Re:Here is my idea: (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696045)

This stuff barely qualifies as noise in the national budget. If you care about cutting government spending, the only meaningful choices are health insurance for the elderly, retirement insurance for the elderly, and the military.

Re:Here is my idea: (5, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696149)

Cutting spending isn't as important for politicians as the appearance of cutting spending. If they want to stay in office, it's a good idea to find something to cut. The typical voter doesn't have much of a head for numbers, and sees just $X million saved. Millions of dollars always sounds like a lot, even when it really isn't.

Re:Here is my idea: (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696845)

As long as your district gets enough pork you can cut as much as you want.

Re:Here is my idea: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697521)

Like using coupons at a grocery store versus cancelling your cable subscription (but no one wants to give up their TV!!).

Re:Here is my idea: (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696185)

Send the elderly to Mars?

Re:Here is my idea: (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696237)

It's a good idea, but in terms of price per euthanasia it's just not cost effective.

That's not a bad idea. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696317)

It's a good idea, but in terms of price per euthanasia it's just not cost effective.

Aside from that, the elderly could be great astronauts. It'll be a long voyage to Mars and back and the elderly would have the wisdom and the coping skills for such a long, monotonous, and boring trip. And logistically, they're a better pick: they need as much food to support their bodies.

And considering the danger involved, well I think most elderly people I know have come to peace with the idea that they don't have much longer. In addition, I think we don't give old people enough credit and in turn it creates a self fulfilling prophecy of decline. Why should one keep oneself up if you're going to be cast away? We're no longer a hunter gatherer or agrarian or industrialized society where a strong back is needed most of all.

Patience and wisdom would be quite a value on a long monotonous space mission.

Re:That's not a bad idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697231)

Patience and wisdom would be quite a value on a long monotonous space mission.

How about dementia and incontinence?

Re:That's not a bad idea. (2)

Higgins_Boson (2569429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697387)

You can basically euthanize them for free. Send them to Mars and when they are half way there, turn off all life support systems. Then turn the craft around, rename it to make it seem as though it's another vehicle being sent to rendezvous with the previous one, rinse and repeat.

This may or may not work. But worth a try, right?

Re:Here is my idea: (4, Funny)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696527)

do they have lawns on mars?

This is nonsense (4, Interesting)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696553)

Why should anyone waste their time sending NASA anything? We already have enough goddamn ideas already. What we need now is someone to put them into action, not more meetings to plan more meetings.

Re:This is nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697627)

I have an idea: abolish NASA. Without NASA impeding men from profiting in space, Americans would quickly colonize the moon and Mars.

Re:Here is my idea: (3, Insightful)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696811)

And there in lays the problem. The elderly vote in large numbers and they care about retirement, health care and defense. Until young voters vote in numbers greater than the elderly don't expect change.

Here is my idea: Soylent Green (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697095)

Then we'll have the money to go to mars. Oh, wait! I forgot. I'm freaking elderly!

Keep yer filthy Govmnt hands off'n my Medicare!

Send criminals (0)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696013)

Send criminals, the way the British used Australia. Either they make it or they don't, but you don't have to worry about packing fuel for the return trip. Ship them supplies and see what happens.

Re:Send criminals (4, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696027)

You could probably send volunteers. But sending criminals is pointless. Survival on a mars mission will require an extreme level of technical skill that just isn't plausible to develop in that population. Sending criminals is just a ludicrously expensive way to implement the death penalty (and existing systems are egregiously expensive enough).

Re:Send criminals (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696173)

It's pointless for another reason, given a chance to go to mars, even if ostensibly a "one way trip" NASA would have far more volunteers than they need, including many many fit and technically competent candidates.

Re:Send criminals (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697089)

I suppose if we were to build a sealed living chamber under a mountain of human bodies, it might shield against the solar radiation for a while.

Why does the notion of "humans on Mars" persist? The planet has no magnetosphere, so it'll be a sealed-in, space-station existence. We can't sow plant life, not even plants genetically altered for Martian soil, because the planet lacks the ability to protect biological lifeforms from our Sun. If humanity must go to Mars for competitive political reasons, we're better off shaping Phobos and Deimos into living habitats, and using remote robotics to explore the surface of the planet. Once we crawl from the gravity well, it will be wise to stay out of it.

Unless the plan is to live deep below Mars' surface, or something. I suspect we should figure out how to do that on this planet, first, though.

Re:Send criminals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696285)

Antartica, then?

Re:Send criminals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696785)

You could probably send volunteers. But sending criminals is pointless. Survival on a mars mission will require an extreme level of technical skill that just isn't plausible to develop in that population. Sending criminals is just a ludicrously expensive way to implement the death penalty (and existing systems are egregiously expensive enough).

I gotta disagree. You could put Kevin Mitnick in charge of security... You just have to select from the right population of criminals.

Your Mom (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696131)

Yeah, those where good days. The sex was awesome missionary style, with the ole gal, but when I went for the grand finale by flipping her over doggie style, I thought the buildings septic tank busted open. I tried to be a "real trooper" and continue till the volcano erupted out, from my mounting, but my vomit beat the eruption. I pulled out, went outside and got in my truck and puked all the way down the one way street, and never looked back. The smoke from my tires wouldn't allow much to see anyway. Man this woman hadn't wiped since wearing her last diaper! I think she moved to Chicago.

Rofl @ capcha.. Intrude LOLOL

Re:Your Mom (3, Insightful)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696249)

we really do need to go to -5.
really.

Re:Send criminals (5, Funny)

walkerp1 (523460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696135)

Send criminals, the way the British used Australia. Either they make it or they don't, but you don't have to worry about packing fuel for the return trip. Ship them supplies and see what happens.

All right! Whom do I have to kill to get a slot?

Re:Send criminals (3, Insightful)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696389)

There's a flaw in your metaphor: timeline.

The European discovery of Australia was in 1606 - this is about equivalent to "sending a small, Apollo-like exploration mission to Mars". More and more exploratory missions went on from various countries, but colonization was effectively unattempted until the late 1700s, nearly two centuries later (and driven, at least in part, by the American Revolution cutting off the outflow of "transported" criminals to America).

In short, sending a large number of unskilled and unmotivated colonists to a new land won't work until at least decades after initial, small-scale exploration is possible. You need at least hundreds (the first British Australian colony was over a thousand settlers) to have a sustainable colony - right now, we can't send tens, much less hundreds or thousands, of people to Mars, even one-way. Sending prisoners, half a dozen at a time, to Mars, at the cost of billions per trip, would get us nothing but a pile of skeletons on a distant planet and a national deficit that will require new fields of mathematics just to calculate.

The Moon might be a more plausible location (and by "more plausible" I mean "slightly closer to physically possible"). But even then, the metaphorical timescale doesn't look to good - we probably won't have a permanent Moon colony until 2150, by your analogy.

Re:Send criminals (3, Interesting)

garlicbready (846542) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696721)

Or how about Mars big brother
it should be fun to watch the 'astronauts' or contestants slowly lose they're sanity while trapped in a metal can on the way to mars
being watched on camera everywhere they go
of course you'd have to dedicate a large chunk of the craft to the cameras and the big chair
and to keep those supplies coming, we need ratings
send a couple of bots called Huey Dewey And Louie (see Silent running), or for a bit more deranged fun how about that bot from Saturn 3

Re:Send criminals (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697475)

...or the one from The Black hole? Not the orange one that looked like Zax [sharetv.org] fucked a dustbin (B.O.B. LF 28 [slipperybrick.com] ), the huge red one [tumblr.com] .

If NASA really wants to go for space exploration.. (5, Interesting)

Haxagon (2454432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696055)

... they need to stop thinking in a round-trip paradigm. We would be able to get a lot more accomplished, a lot quicker, if we drew upon the pool of astronauts and possible-astronauts who are willing to do a long-term mission in the name of science.
Pour as much money as they can into psychological screenings and legal documents making sure that they are absolutely not liable, and send them off. The real reason we've stayed on Earth and its orbiting bodies is that we've concentrated too much on packing enough fuel with them for a round-trip, and not enough on finding ways to allow Humans to live indefinitely in enclosed Martian settlements. The current model of "go to star, get data, come home, instant hero" is just not feasible for meaningful space travel beyond what we have today.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

amiga3D (567632) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696141)

It should be a minimum of a 6 year trip to justify the expense. They can send supplies on a regular schedule and the containers can be utilized on site. A regular base could be built and people could be rotated out after their 6 year stay or they could stay on if they wanted to. Imagine the exploration and discovery possible with a long term team on the ground.

Step by step. (4, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696193)

1. A cheap way to launch supplies into Earth orbit. No people will be shipped this way so even a huge cannon would be good.

2. Prep the supplies from #1 in orbit (need a space station or shuttle for this) and use cheap, slow engines to get them to Mars.

3. The supplies enter Mars orbit and stay there until they are signalled from the ground to come down.

Keep up a steady stream and roll any improvements into the system and you should be able to supply a mission for however long you want to keep them alive.

Getting them back to Earth will be a problem.
Are there any volunteers for a one-way mission?
At least until they can assemble their own launch pad to get their people back into orbit.

Re:Step by step. (4, Informative)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696519)

A more complete step by step plan. Robotic/Automated/Remote controlled equipment is used throughout to prepare the way ahead of large numbers of humans:

(1) Advanced Manufacturing - Using modular automated systems that can bootstrap much of their own construction. This has a goal of lowering manufacturing cost by a large factor. It is first used on Earth to build the factories to build the first space systems, and then later used in space to leverage local energy and materials resources.

(2) Hypervelocity Launcher - This is a low development cost device for launching bulk cargo. Delicate cargo and humans still travel by conventional rockets. At the moment there is enough cost savings to justify such a launcher, but if other vehicles get cheap enough, it may not be needed.

(3) Orbital Assembly - Assemble larger space systems from smaller components launched from Earth, or later manufactured in space. Smaller components means you can use smaller launch systems from Earth, which have lower startup cost.

(4) Electric Thrusters - These have about 10 times the fuel efficiency of existing rockets, and enable highly leveraged mining and processing.

(5) Orbital Mining - Mining small asteroids in orbits close to the Earth for raw materials. The mass return ratio is so high, especially with getting fuel from the next step, it dramatically affects all subsequent cost.

(6) Processing Factory - Converts raw materials mined in space into useful inventory such as fuel, oxygen, structural parts, etc.

(7) Space Elevator - This allows using the highly efficient electric thrusters in place of rockets for much of the transport job in gravity wells, starting with the Earth's.

(8) Human Transport - This improves the methods for transporting humans and cargo which cannot withstand the high acceleration of the hypervelocity launcher.

(9) Lunar Development - With our in-space infrastructure well developed, we can now access the Moon in a robust fashion and start to use it's relatively large mass and surface area.

(10) Interplanetary Development - Transfer habitats in orbits between Earth and Mars. Since they don't move, they can have heavy shielding and greenhouses. Crews use small vehicles to get from habitat to planet orbit at each end of the trip

(11) Mars Development - Use materials from Phobos to build elevator to Mars surface, and start to build up Mars.

More details here: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods/Combined_Systems [wikibooks.org]

Re:Step by step. (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696941)

So what's this vast amount of infrastructure going to in the meantime? I think we should build out infrastructure that is justified by current needs not far future ones. Else you might end up in a situation where new businesses (say a remarkably cheap reusable launch vehicle) can't form because existing infrastructure is operating at below cost in a desperate attempt to justify its existence.

Re:Step by step. (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697581)

Advanced manufacturing pays for itself on Earth, regardless of if you do anything in space, by being more efficient.

Bulk cargo delivery is a cheaper way to deliver supplies to Low Earth Orbit. Customers at first would be places like Space Station, and communications satellites (which need a lot of fuel to get to GEO). Those are existing markets.

Steps 3-6 work together. They both make it cheaper to go anywhere past LEO (electric thrusters), and provide their own fuel (mining and processing), so it's self-sustaining once it's set up. A 2 ton mining ship plus 4.5 tons of fuel is sufficient to return 200 tons of asteroid rock, which you feed into your processing plant to extract useful items. That's not really vast infrastructure, but it's enough to get started. It can grow later as needed.

There is no need for the infrastructure to all be owned by the same entity, it can be multiple separate businesses who compete with each other. In fact, I specifically note in item 2 that a cheap launcher (like a re-useable SpaceX rocket) can substitute for what I have listed. In the page I linked to I also stated "If you build in smaller steps, you have the opportunity to change direction if new developments come along, or retrofit an improvement to just the part that needs it." That is in direct opposition to the current NASA plan of building a big rocket for their Space Launch System, all of which will be wasted if a cheaper launch vehicle comes along, or something changes the mission assumptions they sized it for.

So I think your concerns are unfounded, but I have more work to do to flesh out the data to support this step by step plan, like comparing it to the cost of doing the standard NASA Mars mission they are planning.

Re:Step by step. (4, Interesting)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697813)

Step one is a VanNeuman machine. Go ahead and dream, but realize that it's tougher then you think. Historically, it took lathes and surface grinders to build mills and rotary grinders, if that helps your thinking. All those presuppose metal mining, refining, casting, heat treating etc etc. I'd pre-assume cutting tools and the like come from earth.

You might also get some real world manufacturing experience. Check that, it would contaminate your purity. Maker bots can do anything or will be able to soon.

I think they need to start with metal processing in space: In the asteroid belt, using robotic vacuum processes, large reflectors and solar sail powered tugs (that pre-heat the ore asteroids on the way to the metal sputtering sight. Useless on earth; start with mission one. Purpose: capture a nickle iron asteroid with solar sail probe and heat using sail, optional: melt it. Final option. Blow a bubble with it. Second final option: Sputter a beam onto a thin wire starter, see how long you can get it to grow, continuous process, feeding out the wire. Hot metal plus solar wind should sputter. Might have to be very hot metal.

Then again I might want to get some real world space experience. Check that...

Re:Step by step. (2)

theIsovist (1348209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697455)

At least until they can assemble their own launch pad to get their people back into orbit.

No small task on a planet that has 38% our gravity, an inhospitable atmosphere, and no large scale mining, manufacturing, or fabrication plant. It would take many years and many missions to make the colonies self sustaining. Currently, our closest attempt at living in a closed ecosystem (biosphere-2) resulted in 2 years, with O2 dropping and CO2 rising heavily towards the end of the experiment. Worse yet, the experiment spawned a movie staring Pauly Shore. It's not that I don't believe that we will have the technology eventually, but I can't help but feel that anyone who thinks that we can colonize Mars the way we colonized other continents has no understanding of the issues.

3 year round trip is minimum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696201)

Well, it's going to be a minimum of a 3 year triip. 8-9 months to get there, and the next launch opportunity to return is about 18 months later, then 8-9 months to get home. That's assuming the seasons on Mars line up ok against your landing and launch windows with respect to things like dust storms and summer vs winter for temperature control (assuming we're going nuclear power for electricity.)

And, of course, some magic technology so the kiloRads of radiation dose during the trips don't kill the astronauts. 1-2 kRad/year in round numbers.. 600 Rad is a fairly quick death, 300 Rad lets you linger in pain a bit.

Re:3 year round trip is minimum (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696899)

And, of course, some magic technology so the kiloRads of radiation dose during the trips don't kill the astronauts. 1-2 kRad/year in round numbers.. 600 Rad is a fairly quick death, 300 Rad lets you linger in pain a bit.

We call it "mass". Throw enough protons in the way and you've mitigated the radiation problem well enough.

Re:3 year round trip is minimum (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697603)

That's why I have orbital mining and transfer habitats in the step-by-step approach above. They are in orbits between Earth and Mars, and don't move once set up. They have mass shielding and greenhouses for life support. You get the raw materials for that from asteroids already in orbits between the two planets, so the delta v to move stuff to the desired orbits is not that much.

Crew and supplies meet up with the transfer habitats when they are close to Earth, and drop off when they are close to Mars, so the time unprotected by shielding is low. You also don't have to carry food and water for the whole trip, since the Habitats supply that. You just need enough for the shorter times at each end. It ends up being way more efficient if you are doing more than a few trips.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696325)

Only if we can mine unobtanium without getting our asses kicked by blue aliens.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696151)

The future of manned space exploration may belong to China for just this reason.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696331)

Really, they just need to RTFM [wikipedia.org] (and cough up a metric shitload of money).

Easy peasy.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

fizzer06 (1500649) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696591)

Metric value for a shitload. Is that by weight or volume?

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697559)

Volume of course, you can tell because of the load part.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (4, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696347)

Fuel for a return trip is mostly an excuse. You just need to do the return trip in two hops: bring enough fuel in the lander to get yourself to orbit, then dock with a giant tanker that carries enough fuel for the rest of the trip. Mars gravity is only about twice that of the Moon, and we got a lander into lunar orbit over fifty years ago, so I can't imagine a Mars ascent being that much of a leap.

The harder part is actually landing a pod big enough to provide long-term living quarters. You could probably do it with inflatable buildings and large air compressors, but you'd still need a supplemental oxygen supply and either a steady supply of food and oxygen or a means of producing your own.

The ideal solution would require landing somewhere with water ice. Water can provide oxygen by electrolysis. Sure, there are other ways to get oxygen (using CO2 electrolysis, for example), but that won't provide them with the water they'll need for other things like cooking, bathing, etc., so landing somewhere with an ample supply of water would be a big plus.

So combine some very powerful air compressors with oxygen generators, lots of heating coils, some inflatable buildings, some disassembled airtight greenhouses, two or three shipments containing large, rolled-up solar panel sheets, etc. and it might actually be feasible to create a long-term habitat on Mars for not a lot more than the cost of a few rover missions. Remember to provide at least three of everything so that they won't be screwed if one of them doesn't work, preferably in separate bundles within reasonable walking distance of a single drop zone. Then provide a small lander with enough reserve oxygen and power to last them a month or two just in case it takes them longer than expected to get things set up.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696379)

You realize they're not actually talking about sending any person to Mars, right? We're just going to send another dumb RC toy, like we've done the last fifteen years.

Obviously whatever they plan, it won't happen by 2018. So be generous with their adherence to their timeline and say 2020. That means that only 51 years after man landed on the moon and some 20 years after man landed an RC toy on Mars, we will finally . . . land another RC toy on Mars. Gosh, that's some real high dreaming, right there. That should sure inspire the masses. Fifty years to go from riding horses to landing a human on the moon and only another 50+ years to landing . . . a toy on Mars. Boy, we should be sooooo proud of ourselves and our piddling accomplishments. Why, at this rate, we might even get a man on Mars in the next three hundred years!

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696925)

If I understand, they're talking about the sample return mission. That IMHO would be on the short list of necessary activities before a manned mission. This "RC toy" mission would go a long ways to telling us what sort of world we would be landing a manned mission on.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696487)

As much as I am for human exploration, and agree send people who are willing if they are willing, heres an idea for a cheaper probe. Design a cube, or tetrahedron, or some shape that you could attach inflatable balloons to the face of to make an inflatable sphere. Let the wind throw it where it may, and you can deflate the sphere section by section to make sure each instrument or experiment package is where it needs to be. If you get stuck somewhere or thrown into a canyon, hey, you could even use tacticly inflating sections to move it. Build a bunch of them, drop them all over.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697407)

"...you could attach inflatable balloons..."

Yep, those are way better than uninflatable ones.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696537)

Pour as much money as they can into psychological screenings and legal documents making sure that they are absolutely not liable, and send them off.

There is no legal contract in existence to make this happen. The place with the equipment available has to be proven theoretically habitable first and to get the volunteers there has to be a significant incentive. Almost all possible incentives are bounded by the resources of the Earth, or defined in terms of them so the incentive might have to be an ideological, a religious or relating to the very survival of those colonists or the entire human race.
  Mars is a dead planet in terms of its magnetic field and the lack of plate tectonics so resource excavation will be hard and perilous. The technology going there can't be dependent of much if the colony wishes to be ultimately self-sufficient as it will have to be and there would have to be a method for manufacturing water from the resources available, or importing it from the nearby.

The current model of "go to star, get data, come home, instant hero" is just not feasible for meaningful space travel beyond what we have today.

It's a good thing there is the concept of interplanetary internet in existence already, as the concepts of "data", "home" and "instant hero" have evolved accordingly. ;)

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696837)

Historically, exploration has been round trip. And given that we don't have experience with creating settlements on other bodies, I don't see the case for one way trips.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (2)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696903)

... they need to stop thinking in a round-trip paradigm.

Agreed, but an unmanned mission will accomplish much more than wasting time and resources trying to keep a person alive. Of all the fantastic space exploration that has happened over the years, the one that impressed me the most was when Huygens landed on Saturn's moon Titan. That was the most unworldly thing I've ever seen.

Re:If NASA really wants to go for space exploratio (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697803)

The real reason we've stayed on Earth and its orbiting bodies is that we've concentrated too much on packing enough fuel with them for a round-trip, and not enough on finding ways to allow Humans to live indefinitely in enclosed Martian settlements.

Yes, because that makes much more sense than spending hundreds of times more on fuel and boosters to send enough material for them to build a settlement. Plus the tens of times more on fuel and boosters per year to keep the settlement running. Plus the increase in budget by a couple of zeros to develop the technology to merely allow them to live right on the edge of disaster while being utterly dependent on those annual shipments....

What the hell are they playing at? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696065)

Given that they only recently pulled funding for ExoMars, nearly screwing over a lot of people in Europe (thanks, Russia, by the way) it's a bit hard to believe they're just saying "eh, we want to do our own thing again".

Sort it out, NASA.

Re:What the hell are they playing at? (4, Informative)

hde226868 (906048) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696189)

I would assume that it is something similar to what NASA did with the ESA L-class missions last year, where they also pulled out and then held scientific workshops. NASA's problem is that it has no money to participate in ExoMars or the L-class missions, and that's why they pulled out of ExoMars. However, legally speaking NASA is required to follow the decadal reports, and the planetary one recommend Mars research. This then led to the schizophrenic situation that they have held workshops for ideas on how to do gravitational wave research (LISA), X-ray astronomy (IXO), and now apparently Mars, where they previously pulled out of all joint ventures with ESA and JAXA. However, the good thing is that with the recommendation from the decadal reports and the results from such workshops the scientists at NASA headquarters have an argument that spending some money for R&D in these areas is necessary, because they can prove need. As a result this important research does not die. There is money for general R&D in the budget, so while some larger programs have been explicitly canceled by either OMB or congress, the Mars/X-ray/gravitational wave research can at least be partially funded this way.

I'd not blame NASA for this but rather congress, which tends to try to exert strong control over NASA, which in many areas really amounts to micro-managing projects, without Congress really understanding what it is doing...

Send some TSA screeners (3)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696079)

That way we'll get a short period of actual usefulness out of them for once.

Re:Send some TSA screeners (2)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696125)

Is this like the joke about using lawyers for scientific research because the researchers got too attached to the rats?

Re:Send some TSA screeners (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696165)

I actually doubt its a joke. In this case, its more likely that he really would like TSA screeners to be blasted into orbit with no return.

Re:Send some TSA screeners (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696803)

I actually doubt its a joke. In this case, its more likely that he really would like TSA screeners to be blasted into orbit with no return.

We have a winner!

Re:Send some TSA screeners (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696257)

Do you really want First Contact to be a sexual harassment suit?

Re:Send some TSA screeners (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696979)

Do you really want First Contact to be a sexual harassment suit?

"Don't touch my gelsacs!"

(Seriously, your appendages are hot enough to vaporize carbox and liquefy hydrox!)

don't. industrialize the moon first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696127)

Quite frankly, I like Gingrich's idea of mining the moon. With some industry on the moon, several heavily shielded space stations could be sent into orbits within the inner solar system. It will take some time for the ion thrusters to get the orbits right, but I think it is a more cost effective solution than NASA's current plans.

Go there. (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696171)

get out, walk around.

Remember when NASA was composed of engineers ... (1)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696235)

instead of a bunch of administrative bureaucrats? Well... neither do I. But at least the engineers used to get to help.

Here's a thought, look for life! (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696295)

They need to look for direct evidence of life and not gases and such that they can later claim are caused by geological processes. Strap a microscope onto a lander and take soil samples at the surface, 1", 1' and 3' depths and subject them to several conditions that should stimulate growth. Do a pass over each sample with a microscope before and after and look for biological action. Until they see actual cell division happening the debate will go on. Apparently there's no higher lifeforms so you have to look for bacteria or other simple lifeforms. We're talk about what amounts to petri dishes and a basic microscope and we may have an answer. They are spending billions to go to Mars and seem to be making an effort to no look for life. Want more funding? Find life!

A little late?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696301)

May 10, 2012???? Where were you a month ago smokin the bong??? Slashdot = fail

O.K, let's see.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696343)

1) Build a really big rocket
2) Go to Mars

IT'S NOT SO FUCKING HARD

Oh, hang on:
1) Shoot all the yellow, pansy ass politicians with no backbone who see an easy score in fucking over NASA again since JFK took one
2) Build a really big rocket
3) Go to Mars

That's more like it.

Why bother (1, Interesting)

Ol Olsoc (1175323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696385)

We'll sit back and let other countries do it. We're done with space exploration.

And spare me the Spacex stuff. Unless they are immune from liability, and bankruptcy. A few mishaps, some dead space tourists, and we're permanently grounded.

Re:Why bother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696477)

It is cheaper to just stage a visit to Mars. Then we can take credit for it too :-)

Re:Why bother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697651)

It is cheaper to just stage a visit to Mars. Then we can take credit for it too :-)

Been there. Done that [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Why bother (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697721)

Convince James Cameron to shoot a Martian film. On location.

Re:Why bother (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696889)

Unless they are immune from liability, and bankruptcy. A few mishaps, some dead space tourists, and we're permanently grounded.

Counterexamples for the liability claim: skydiving, deep sea diving, and expeditions to Mt. Everest. We've figured out liability else these tourist industries wouldn't exist.

The bankruptcy issue is still there, but I think of that as a feature not a bug. If SpaceX can't pay the bills, then I want them out of the way efficiently. Bankruptcy court provides such a means.

the end is near.... (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696437)

I read the challenge areas, basically it's all the things that the guys working at NASA should be doing, if the Federal Government hadn't slashed their already inadequate budget to the point where it is now nothing more than a bunch of bureaucrats doing time.... So now some organization called the "Lunar and Planetary Institute" a division of "Universities Space Research Association" - to quote: "USRA engages the creativity and authoritative expertise of the research community to develop and deliver sophisticated, forward-looking solutions to Federal agencies and other customers - on schedule and within budget." ... wants free ideas - must not be getting any good ones from their "authoritative experts in the research community....lol

Ideas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696555)

Build 5 Modified Saturn Vs
Build NERVA/Ion Drive Hybrid
Build Martian Excursion Module

Launch Saturn Vs
Build Martian Command Ship
Go to Mars

Mr. Crusher, Engage.

Re:Ideas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697661)

Build 5 Modified Saturn Vs Build NERVA/Ion Drive Hybrid Build Martian Excursion Module

Launch Saturn Vs Build Martian Command Ship Go to Mars

Mr. Crusher, Engage.

Not the best idea [youtube.com] .

Ok, doesn't sound hard. (3, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696613)

Surface and sub-surface mapping is easy. LADAR gives you the surface map, thermal imaging (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-13518143 and http://thermal-imaging-blog.com/index.php/2011/06/06/finding-pyramids/#.T4tWe9Xe4tY [thermal-imaging-blog.com] ) gives you subsurface structures and a good idea of what the composition is.

Triage is more complex but doable. Different materials allow radio through at different velocities and refract at different angles, so a simple system is to use a GPR setup with multiple receivers. If you know the difference in time it takes to transmit a signal from A to B through one medium versus another, plus what appears to be behind what when you look at one point versus another, then you know enough. (This is because we can reproduce the minerals we do know are on Mars and can therefore know what those look like using such technology in advance. The stuff you'd want to triage is stuff that doesn't fit with behaviours we'd expect to see.)

But GPR is energy-intensive. No big deal - if it's a triage, you know the general area, you're wanting specifics. Since moving to a location is going to take days by rover, you can afford to triage by any process that consumes as much power as your solar cells can gather in that time. You can afford for it to be wasteful, because you don't have to carry more than one target area's worth of power at any one time and can recharge the batteries between runs.

The original scans have to be a lot more conservative, since you need to perform an unknown amount of surveying and therefore cannot use more power than you can gather in the same amount of time, but isolating a point out of a fixed, small area is going to be a brief, infrequent task. The quality therefore matters far more than the power requirements, when you're working that way round.

Identifying organics will be hard without some sort of spectral analysis. The detection of methane in the past is only significant if that methane was produced by biochemical process rather than an inorganic process, and that is currently unknown. Further, it's only important if the organic found is ALSO an organic relating to such methane production. Terrestrial biochemistry is highly diverse, so there's no such guarantee. Assuming you were looking for those specific organisms, however, life operates with a negative feedback system. Thus, if a process produces X then as the concentration of X increases the production must decrease. X will eventually become toxic to the process. Since we've seen methane and the Viking landers saw CO2 production, you might want to take methane and CO2 along. By repeating the Viking experiment with differing, controlled levels of initial CO2 and methane, you should determine if a negative feedback loop exists. If you saturate, run the experiment then return to a known previous unsaturated state an inorganic system -might- produce the same response as it did in that same state previously. An organic system is guaranteed not to, since you created an environment that was toxic.

There's one catch. This requires spectral analysis and the requirement said you can't do that. True, all chemical responses (organic or inorganic) will also produce a heat signature (2nd Law of Thermodynamics) but ALL the chemistry will be producing heat and you will have NO idea what fraction might be biochemical and therefore NO means of predicting what level of reduction in activity is significant. (If 1% of the activity might be biochemical, you're looking at a very different level of difference being significant than if 90% might be biochemical.) If you can't construct a hypothesis H1 in the first place, you cannot establish how likely it is if what you are seeing is H1 or H0.

There are techniques for extracting proteins in biochemistry. IIRC, you need them to be in a solution, you add various solvents and reagents and then you filter. Then you're just measuring the mass of that part of the filter vs. the expected mass if no proteins were present. That doesn't require a spectrometer. That's playstuff for a biochemist or inorganic biochemist. I used to have great fun with the training software for learning these techniques - I could extract 102% of the proteins present, which is quite an achievement. However, doing the same on Mars presupposes: (1) that organics there are based on known proteins (artificial amino acids that don't arise on Earth get found from time to time, so there's no guarantee any amino acids on Mars will be on any official list on Earth), (2) that organics are protein-based in the first place, (3) that the solvents and reagents will not freeze solid on Mars, (4) that the chemistry will work the same, and (5) that you can get gravel filters to Mars without them turning to powder through freeze fractures and/or launch forces.

For any long term manned mission anywhere... (2)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696635)

...some obstacles need to be dealt with:

- Energy: The theory is there, as is a practically unlimited supply of helium-3 on the Moon. That's a stopover just to refuel and the ready technology for controlled nuclear fusion. Step n-1: permanent lunar base.
- Food/water: OK, the water bit is easy: pretty much the simplest polyatomic compound in existence, it has many uses including oxygen generation (photoelectrics/hydroponics?), and it can be recycled to an infinite degree. It's also pretty dense, so storage isn't much of a problem. Food is a simple matter of growing your own, for which a garden needs to be built and the necessary skills present to maintain it to the point where it is a constantly replenishable source of chemical energy and other essential nutrients. Such gardens can be located on the lunar colony, in orbit around Earth, the Moon or Mars (better yet, all three), with a limited supply onboard to be replenished during stopovers during the trip.
- Psychological studies: impacts on long-term enclosure in tin can environments (ask the Russians), in small groups of less than half a dozen (ask the Russians or any political prisoner), and application of these studies to determine the suitability of any candidate for the mission as to their likely responses to such conditions and steps that can be taken to mitigate any negative effects such as cabin fever - wouldn't do the mission any good to have someone suddenly decide they're going for a walk without a spacesuit on. Strike that, it'd be an End-Of-Mission event.
- Damage control. We're talking about micrometeoroid strikes, radiation surges, orbital anomalies, structural failures, electronic failures, and the training required to recover from those.

There's just a few. There's a lot more, probably even more that I wouldn't think of if I wrote a thousand pages on it, never mind two. I think the eggheads are talking about a robotic mission here. For which I would suggest a small, semi-autonomous probe with the ability to cover large distances rapidly (neutrally buoyant craft with fan engines?) and the ability to take and analyse samples with the equipment it has onboard. So, some serious miniaturisation technology, probably some endlessly renewable power source (printed PV array?), redundant systems (or more than one probe)... it could be done with technology we have now, the question is how to utilise what we have, or how to adapt what we have to do what we want?

Re: incubator + embryos + ... (1)

R. M. Dasheff (2598713) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696657)

Plunk down an incubator bursting with embryos and see what happens...

Re: incubator + embryos + ... (1)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697255)

I think we should send life to Mars as well. Plants, bacteria, insects. Finding life on Mars will prove little, if anything, as life could still have originated here on Earth and been jettisoned to Mars millenia ago via asteroid impacts. If life on Earth is the only life in the universe, then it's our job to spread it.

Send congress to Mars (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696697)

its all around a winner ... we get people on mars, clean house, and I doubt anyone would bitch about the cost

What's the hurry? (1)

u64 (1450711) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696719)

My suggestion is cheapest: Spend the money on improving technology. Until it's cheap enough to
visit Mars. What are we loosing by waiting a few years, or even a decade?
I doubt they've even finished analyzing the data collected so far.

Re:What's the hurry? (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696813)

That's what the proposal is asking: what technology should we work on that will make it cheap enough?

The catch with this approach is that you actually have to commit to technologies (which means building things, testing them, and actually making flights on occasion). You can't just sit back and say "yep, let's wait on someone else to develop the tech" and then not actually do anything.

Send a plent in a small greenhouse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696727)

Seriously, send a small robotic greenhouse. Have water available. Add soil from mars. Add some organic material. Mix. Put in the seeds. Also, in another small greenhouse, have regular sterilized earthsoil with same plants for a control. Add same amount of water, etc. Lets see what happens.

Windbourne

Problem solved (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696733)

NASA should send a corpse or a box of cremation ashes. This satisfies their requirement of putting a human on Mars at a reasonable cost. They could send a robot at the same time and get something useful done during the mission.

Help On The Way (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696761)

When President Obama is forcefully removed from the executive office at the White House, and his lap-dog Nasa Admisistrator is similarly dismissed and bared from all Nasa offices and instillations, a big sigh of relief will be heard and noted across the United States of America.

Re:Help On The Way (2)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697161)

until the next tool gains office, puts in a new lap-dog and claims that visiting mars is against gods will, but we should pour billions into state lobbied pork funds for it anyway

I say do this in stages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39696817)

We've already proven we can send robots there and get some data back. Let's start sending the pieces needed to actually build something there so there's little chance of sending a person who could end up stranded with no working supplies. In the mean time, these resources could act as shelter and analysis stations for future robots.

How to get funding for Mars (1, Funny)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 2 years ago | (#39696841)

(1) sex
(2) oil
(3) lower taxes
(4) god
(5) fighting terrorism

No accompanying explanations, rational arguments will only blunt the force of these compelling interests.

Re:How to get funding for Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698001)

I suggest a war jar: every time the government inadvertently starts a war they have to put a billion in a jar for NASA

Flying drones instead of rovers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697005)

Send flying drones

Use NASA's Project Orion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697055)

NASA already have a plan to go to Mars. Project Orion.
http://www.ted.com/talks/george_dyson_on_project_orion.html

Advanced manufacturing no human lives (4, Insightful)

mattr (78516) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697297)

Let's think of a realistic plan and what its purpose is. I submit the purpose should be meaningful exploration toward expansion of the human race to the stars in order to:
- understand our environment,
- increase survivability of catastrophes, and
- grow our technical capabilities to a scale necessary to meet the challenges this endeavor presents.

The purpose is not to waste human lives, or waste time, or make political basketball.
We gain the hearts of the populace by making solid progress on the timescales of everyday lives, building momentum, and teaching science so that the populace understands why space is important.

Incidentally nobody wants to go die on Mars or to make a mission that will require dying so let's just stop talking about getting volunteers.

If we try to make a manned mission to Mars in the near future, it is going to be extremely risky and in the best case will end up like the manned moon mission: a success after many years but then a long hiatus of no exploration after that, since we have "gone there". I recommend we do not waste resources on manned travel to Mars yet, at least not without a much faster engine, and proceed with the following:

First of all we need funded projects immediately covering:
- develop a robust, automated, semi-intelligent manufacturing capability able to mine, create parallel worker bots, build smelter and factory, develop energy sources such as solar and heat gradient, etc.
- develop an ultra-high velocity launcher
- develop high speed space engines, whether this is nuclear or ion-based remains to be seen
- develop micro-size exploration craft

The manufacturing technology will be built for use on our own planet and perfect here for many uses and climes. It will work underwater, on arid mountain slopes, in antarctica, in the steamy tropics. It will survive attacks by wild animals, tornadoes, floods and monsoons. This project will revolutionize the human realities and economies of Africa and will turn our deserts into solar energy farms. It can be approached as if an alien space exploration and exploitation mission to Earth, which will might help its promotion.

The high-speed space engine will allow us to explore moon, asteroids and Mars on a time-scale that allows many missions during our lifetimes. Do it in months and years not decades.

The launcher will launch seed of this technology to the moon and will be perfected there with astronauts going there for a specific purpose, not just "to go" and make everyone feel good. In other words, the next time we go to the Moon we will take with us a superior technology and feel we can easily set up shop anywhere on the Moon we want.

The exploration craft will be useable on the Earth, Moon, Mars and anywhere else we want to go. Ultimately we want to be able to add capabilities so these semi-autonomous agents can roll, jump, fly, swim, climb etc. as needed and take advantage of local energy sources. Use on the Moon, Mars, Europa and the asteroid belt will be the goals. Before we get there, we can use them on Earth for exploration underwater or in jungles, and for search and rescue, and response to natural disasters like forest fires and tsunamis. Certainly such a capability would have been useful in the Fukushima disaster.

Realistically, our current technology is not high enough at the present moment to sustain a human presence on Mars or the Moon. Ideally from the perspective of someone going there, we would like to have an intelligent, autonomous nanotechnology that could somehow go there ahead of us and build us an entire self-contained, self-repairing station while allowing us to decide what we want to do with the planet. For example whether to leave it as-is, bombard it with ice, seed it with hardy lifeforms, etc.

However an advanced semi-automated manufacturing technology that can slash at the costs and time scales required to develop and maintain this machinery would be very useful, both on Earth and on Mars. If we can better marshal our resources through superior technology it will make life better on Earth as well as bring us a step closer to meaningful exploitation of space.

Re:Advanced manufacturing no human lives (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697637)

Have you been reading the book I've been working on?

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Space_Transport_and_Engineering_Methods [wikibooks.org]

If not, you may want to, and even contribute. It's a wiki project, so help is welcome, as long as you know what you are talking about.

Re:Advanced manufacturing no human lives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697687)

Yoou lost me at nanotechnology

Re:Advanced manufacturing no human lives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697797)

Incidentally nobody wants to go die on Mars or to make a mission that will require dying

Bullshit.

Massive networked sensor system in one satelite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697369)

Put together a satellite that consists of thousands to millions of small durable networked sensor systems that that would be dropped and spread around an area or maybe even the entire planet and communicate images, temperature, and on and on. If needed, vary them, a few with better sensors or different ones for specific purposes. Instead of just one, or a few really expensive pieces.

This would provide some nice data about weather.

looking for ideas? u mean money and steady vision (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 2 years ago | (#39697427)

with money and a steady vision (not changing every few years), it should be a straight forward

farming automaton (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39697907)

I'd like to see a robotic automaton sew several hectares of candidate plants over an area, testing the growth of a variety of different plants, analyzing their growth/mutation or lack thereof. We know there is some water vapor on Mars that could be extracted by reverse osmosis and used to provide water for irrigation of these farms.

Also, Co2 is heavy so I'd like to see some blimps in the air roaming around scanning for signs of H2Oin the ground as a source for future farms.

I also think it would be an opportunity to test several mini pilot resource projects - such as different reverse osmosis, and electrolysis projects, mini genetic engineering projects - for example genetically engineered plants that survive from co2 and only miniscule water and and provide energy.

Overall, I really feel that genetic engineering is vital to any long-term sustainable mission on Mars (which is the only thing worth doing)
I'd like to see organisms that can proliferate on Mars even in the freezing -50 Marsian weather and provide life sustaining amino acids/heat/water/fuel.

I know how it should be done (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39698017)

Honestly, I don't know why NASA doesn't just borrow the Stargate from the Secret Military Space Program

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