MOON, MARS, AND BEYOND -------------------- John Pazmino National Space Society New York City Chapter firstname.lastname@example.org 2004 April 7
Dr Neil Tyson, director of the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York, spoke before the National Space Society about the new national initiative for future human space missions. His presentation was at the NSS NYC Chapter meeting at New York University on Saturday 13 March 2004 with an audience of about 70. Tyson sits on the Aldridge Commission established by US President George Bush to realize his new vision in late January 2004 to resume human exploration of space. The plan includes flights to the Moon and possibly Mars. Tyson explained the function of the commission, named for its chair Edwin Aldridge. The formal name is 'President's Commission on Moon, Mars, and Beyond'. The team must make within 120 days of commencement a final report to the President; this is in late May 2004. The commission runs for 180 days so it can receive comments and discussion on this report. It must accept the Bush mandate of Moon missions and propose ways they can be actualized. It doesn't specify particular projects or programs, but only methods of working toward the first lunar flight. The target date for this flight is 2020, hardwired in Bush's speech. He compared this new commission with the one he sat on last year or so, the Walker Commission. That one studied ways to revive the American aerospace industry, including astronautical pursuits. At that time there was no ongoing goal for human space projects. Now the task is to move toward implementing a definite goal, to land humans on the Moon again within some fifteen years. Curiously, the words 'man' and 'manned' are still prevalent in the space jargon, despite the intervention in the late 20th century of neuter-phrasing in almost all other sectors of American society. Neil repeatedly said things like 'manned spacecraft', 'man on the Moon', in front of an audience of about 1/4 female. The Aldridge Commission has two potentially crippling constraints. First is the preexisting Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report about the Space Shuttle. The other is the International Space Station. The former relates to the use and fate of the three Shuttles. NASA interprets the report by proposing to disband the Shuttle fleet by 2010. It could be replaced by a new human vehicle, but there is nothing on the drawing boards that can be operational by 2010. The International Space Station so far proved to be rather functionless for science, except biology and medicine. No major physics, chemical, electronic, or other science as yet exploited ISS for experiments. In addition, the hoped-for use for industrial manufacturing never materialized. NASA will complete ISS in its central section only, not to its full extent as envisioned in the 1990s. Crew capacity will remain at three, not the seven of the fully consummated station. After 2010, with the retirement of the Shuttles and with no other means to lift and assemble more large ISS components, the space station will be abandoned. LIkely it'll decay from orbit. Tyson repeatedly mixed up 'space shuttle' and 'space station' thruout his talk. These were obvious slips of the tongue and no one seemed to mind. One killer for any government project such as the Bush plan is money. Can NASA get the funding and can the American public pay for it? Tyson assessed that the plan would require about $12 billion per year to accomplish for just the lunar mission and its preliminary flights. He noted that it is unrealistic to hope that NASA will suddenly and steadily get this additional input form Congress. However, NASA can draw heavily on Dept of Defense expertise, which is on a par with NASA's. DoD's own astronautical programs run into the tens of billions per year, at times buried in umbrella projects. By getting DoD to share or cooperate more closely with NASA, perhaps $10 to $11 billion per year can be allocated to the Bush vision. This is funding already in place or far more easily justified under defense reasons. Congress should have to pony up only one extra billion for NASA each year. An other killer is continuity . The American political government can change every four years; it must change after eight. The present administration is up for election in November 2004 with no certainly at all that it will remain in office for the next four years. It is completely plausible that the next president -- even if it be the one now in that office! -- can abandon the Bush plan. With the first lunar visit not before 2020, there are four chances for the Bush vision to be derailed. Neil emphasized that if there is no reasonable longterm continuity, across administrations, for the nest fifteen years, we spacefaring enthusiasts better just give up and go home. There simply will be no sustained human or robotic occupancy of space. He addressed some criticism that the US public is losing interest in the space program. He reported that all in all NASA's budget since the late 1960s was about the same, in constant dollars, with only modest rises and falls over the decades. There was the singular peak of funding in the mid 1960s for the Apollo project, but since then there's no long term trend of decrease as is sometimes claimed. He cited assorted public opinion surveys as indicating ongoing public favor for the space program. When, in one example, people were asked to give the most important achievements of the 20th century, every answer included the Apollo lunar landings. He reminded the audience, all space enthusiasts, of the public fervor over the Mars rovers and the acreage of newspaper space given to them. Neil stressed that Bush actually did not mandate flights to Mars as a direct target. He was vague on where to go beyond the Moon. Some space fans took the Bush scheme as a manifesto to head for Mars like right now. Tyson favors 'solar system' exploration without hitting on Mars as an end in itself. He also favors a mix of automated, robotic, uncrewed ships and those with humans on board. The latter would be for the missions to the Moon and perhaps a close-approaching asteroid. Beyond that it really is a bit much in the early 21st century to send humans to Mars and beyond. As a scientist, Dr Tyson reminded that taken all together, the world's space program delivered virtually all of its scientific results and discoveries from the automated spaceprobes with human craft offering up only a sliver. Need less to say, most of the targets of the robot craft are plain out of reach for humans and will remain so for many many decades to come. Any mass mobilization of US society to resume human lunar visits would require myriads and myriads of scientists and engineers. Tyson claimed we don't got them now or in the near future. One part of the Aldridge report may be a strong push for increasing science and engineering education so there will be a stream of new skilled trained people to build the lunar bases and send crews there. This is a replay of Neil's platform with the Walker Commission, the 'scientists in the silos'. He alluded to the rise of other nations to become spacefaring powers, like China and India. He said that combined, these two countries today have more scientists and engineers on deck than the entire American population. He mused on about the need to give incentives and promotion to students in high school today to take up science and engineering in college. They'll be ready for the lunar project in the 2010s. The crucial importance of science and engineering was brought out by a candid opinion of society. Who really moves civilization forward? Scientists and engineers. Poets, historians, artists do not. Nor do doctors. Tyson explained that it's the physicist who invents the devices and tools that physicians use. Chemists develop the medicines he prescribes. The one hot-button of the Bush plan is the Hubble Space Telescope. Right after Bush handed NASA his plan, NASA declared that it will not do the final visit to HST. HST will live out its life by 2007 and then decay naturally out of orbit. The timing could hardly be worse, due to the assimilation of the HST decision into the Bush scheme. NASA 'killed' HST to get money for the Bush lunar flights. The Hubble cancellation came from NASA's reading of the Columbia report. The Shuttle flight to HST has no provision to inspect the ship or rescue the crew. One reason for keeping the Shuttle only for ISS mission is that the craft can be docked at ISS and inspected for damage. If the ship is deemed unsafe for return to Earth, the crew can hole up in ISS until a second Shuttle can come for a rescue. In this new Shuttle procedure, two working vehicles must participate in each mission. The one makes the flight with the crew, The other is on hot standby in case it must be sent up for a rescue. The rescue trip may take several weeks to prepare, so the crew must be in some shelter able to sustain it for that long. International Space Station is simply the one and only option. As history fell out, HST is a very public satellite, more so than perhaps any other. It is also the most famous one that linked human space presence and science. Everyone saw the previous service visits, demonstrating how humans can do repairs and upgrades in orbit to a major science satellite. Everyone sees, almost monthly, the imagery sent home by HST. Some in the audience had with them, from newspapers and Internet, the Ultra Deep Field, captured by Hubble in the days before the meeting. Neil recalled the brutal fact that the benefit/cost ratio for human-based science in space was far out of bound. It is plain too costly and risky to send people into space to do the science that robots can do. The only genuine science he sees in ISS is biomedical. And that is just a side benefit. The crew can be wired for biomedical data collection while they spend almost every waking minute keeping the station alive and afloat. Even for the Hubble repairs, the crew was more of a mechanic doing a scripted task. But the videos and pictures of astronauts actually 'doing something' in orbit was deeply emotional to the public. The Aldridge Commission is completely neutral on the Hubble flap. Hubble is an existing project that does not lead to the eventual Moon and beyond missions. It's just that it, like the President himself, is caught up in the public -- and scientists's -- furor about the service visit's cancellation. Tyson has a disturbing fear that the very scientists who would prosper by fulfillment of the Bush scheme may agitate to curb it in order to save Hubble. The situation is a bit critical for the Shuttle. Apart from the concern about crew risk. going to HST takes out one Shuttle flight to ISS. ISS needs about 20 more visits, with cargo and crew, to supply it before the fleet is decommissioned. An other consideration is that now, with various new constraints on Shuttle procedures, like only launches in daylight and extra safety procedures and devices, a Shuttle flight will now cost about a full one billion dollars each! That's half the cost of the entire HST project up to first light. When the Shuttle is gone by 2010, there are still ten years to go before the first of the lunar flights. Here Tyson hazards that the lunar flights will be on single-shot rockets, not a reusable vehicle. He noted that the Saturn-V rocket was actually an effective and efficient means of accomplishing the Apollo missions because none of it had to return intact to Earth for reuse. The Space Shuttle is not due to the requirement to bring back the whole craft each time in one reusable piece. It may have been far cheaper to have the crew cabin separate as a capsule for return and let the bulk of the craft incinerate by reentry. An other problem with the Shuttle is that it was both a crew and cargo vessel. He checked previous Shuttle flights and found that most of them were for crew functions only. The cargo bay was empty. When the cargo bay was occupied, many times it was only for deploying a satellite, with HST being one such example. This is a task best done by single-shot uncrewed rockets. He postulates, that the new 'shuttle' will be more like a Soyuz capsule to carry only people to a base, like on the Moon. Cargo can be sent to the base by single-shot rockets. He mused that it may look like a shortened Shuttle without the cargo bay. International collaboration is a will-o-the-wisp in American space policy. There are perhaps two dozen countries 'in space'. But there are only five big spacefaring players. These are NASA, ESA, RSA, China, and Japan. The only ones that matter for the Bush plan is RSA and ESA, which have stake in ISS. Never the less, most of ESA's member countries now see that ISS is a goner and their euros are better spent in cheaper, more productive, robot spacecraft. Hence, NASA may simply announce that as at such-&-such date, it will abandon ISS, so the other countries better start getting their stuff home from there. Russia, once the prime partner in ISS, more or less is broke and would probably be glad to relieve itself of the International Space Station anyway. He closed with a reminder that the last of the five Aldridge Commission public hearings is in early May at the Hayden Planetarium. Details will come in April. Dr Tyson attracted a lengthy Q&A after the meeting and was thronged by the audience as he took down his computer and projector.