Congress to NASA: go to the Moon

By Phil Plait | April 27, 2011 7:00 am

So, what do you do with the rocket capable of lifting 130 tons off the Earth that’s requested of NASA in the Presidential budget for 2012?

Some Congresscritters in the US House have an idea. They want NASA to go back to the Moon.

Hmmm.

A bill making this case was recently submitted to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology where it’ll be debated. I have no idea if it’ll get out of committee, let alone pass on the floor of the House.

But it’s interesting. The bill, HR 1641, states as its purpose:

To direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to plan to return to the Moon and develop a sustained human presence on the Moon.

Ah, that word, "sustained". It fills me with nachas, as my mom would say. Whenever I look at the Moon, every time, I wonder when we’ll go back.

HR 1641 lists many reasons to go back, and indeed hits the high notes of increased knowledge of science, developing advanced technology, improving our long-term economy, and inspiring young people.

But then it says this:


(10) Space is the world’s ultimate high ground, returning to the Moon and reinvigorating our human space flight program is a matter of national security.

(11) Technologies developed and sustained by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s human space flight program, such as liquid and solid rocket propulsion, environmental and life support systems, and communications, navigation, and control systems are important to our military.

(12) China and Russia, understanding the economic and strategic importance of human space flight, have declared their intentions of colonizing the Moon and are advancing their lunar exploration plans.

(13) It is strategically important that the United States possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the space domain, and not cede the space domain to other nations.

Yeah, well. It’s true that China wants to go to the Moon, and Russia may or may not have the wherewithal to do it, but I’m not happy with this being a motivation for us to go back. I don’t like the idea of using the dreaded "other" as an impetus for space exploration. We’ve done this in the past — the whole reason we went to the Moon in the 60s was to beat the Soviets — and look what happened there. Yes, we went, and it was magnificent, but as soon as political winds changed Apollo was canceled. Apollo 14 hadn’t even lifted off when the last missions were taken off the books.

Some space advocates call Apollo a "flags and footprints" mission: get there just to get there. That’s what a space race tends to do. Once you win, what then? Well, you’re done. You’ve won.

But when we go back to the Moon, it shouldn’t be a race. I want us to go back to stay. Get there, set up shop, figure out how to establish life there and then sustain it.

I talk to schoolkids quite a bit, and sometimes they ask me about the Moon Hoax. I have some fun debunking it, and we talk for a while about it and the Moon missions. Every time I do, I have to remind myself of something that shocked me terribly the first time I realized it: these kids were born long after the Space Shuttle had been flying. Heck, they were born long after Hubble was launched!

When I think back to when I was a kid, NASA was the can-do agency. They went to the Moon! There’s a lot of that left to go around, but still, when kids hear about NASA it’s usually about something that went wrong. A Mars mission catastrophically malfunctioned, a Shuttle launch was endlessly delayed, or worse, we’ve lost an Orbiter.

To them, NASA isn’t necessarily the inspiration it once was. But it still could be.

I want us to go back to the Moon, go to a near-Earth asteroid, explore Mars and its moons. But I want us to do it for the right reasons. Not because someone we don’t like is threatening to do it first, but because it’s the right thing to do.

And it is, for many of the reasons put forth by this bill. It may be naive of me, but I can hope that sometimes, when we do something as a nation it’s because it’s the right thing to do. We do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons all the time. Exploring space, understanding the universe around us, pushing the boundaries of what we are capable of: those are things we should be doing. For all the right reasons.


Related posts:

- Tranquility Base
- A half century of manned space exploration
- Give space a chance
- Whence NASA?
- What value space exploration?
- Why explore space?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space

Comments (90)

Links to this Post

  1. Quantum Rocketry » Blog Archive » To the Moon, Again? | April 27, 2011
  1. Yeah, well. It’s true that China wants to go to the Moon, and Russia may or may not have the wherewithal to do it, but I’m not happy with this being a motivation for us to go back. I don’t like the idea of using the dreaded “other” an an impetus for space exploration.

    I totally agree, Phil. But that is just the excuse to justify feeding pork to the constituents of certain politicians who have shuttle-related and Constellation related contracts in the areas that they represent. As I mentioned in your thread called “Rocket Envy”, the following Yahoo! News article covers their real motivations:
    http://bit.ly/ho7qzt

  2. Rebecca Harbison

    My question is: are they going to give NASA the budget to do so? A goal helps, but it should be something that we can achieve, and I’m not sure if NASA can go back to the Moon on its current budget without gutting other departments. (And, as someone who <3s the robotic exploration NASA does, that's not cool with me.)

  3. John P

    “…Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding. …” -JFK

    Nothing wrong with going to the moon and set up shop. But that would be a good goal for the private sector of spaceflight. NASA should be shooting for asteroids and Mars.

    “We choose not to do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

  4. Jeff

    I hope they go back to moon, and the young people should be excited over this. I myself still am reeling from 1972 when they cut Apollo, so I have a certain viewpoint on this, because I myself think the shuttle was a blind alley and they lost time. But they’ll probably get back there, the young students are still very young and gung ho like they were , I hope enough of them go into rocket science to keep the expertise going.

  5. Dan I.

    NASA to Congress:

    Give us the money!

  6. Chas, PE SE

    Phil:

    Here’s a question for you: What would you rather have?
    >>A Hubble-type orbiting telescope?
    >>A Hubble or bigger telescope attached to the ISS?
    >>A telescope on the backside of the Moon?

    BTW, do people talking about “The Dark Side of the Moon” micropit your rocks as much as it does mine??

  7. Aubri

    I take those points as just what you have to say to get some lawmakers on board. NASA knows what they want to do, they just have to convince enough politicians to make it happen.

  8. Andy

    Dan,

    Congress to NASA:
    No! Buy your own lemon pledge.

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    Here’s 25 good reasons to go to the Moon :

    http://www.outofthecradle.net/archives/2008/06/25-good-reasons-to-go-to-the-moon-2/

    or at least a link to them.

    Here’s a “what if” .. what if the Soviet’s had followed the United States to the Moon sending cosmonauts where only a dozen astronauts have ever been? Would we still be there today if the race was on-going?

    Or what if we’d lost astronauts on the Moon if Armstrong and Aldrin had been stranded up there? Would we have gone back more often in their honour and memory and found it harder to give up?

    Or what if JFK had lived .. would he have given up on space the way his successors did?

    I guess it doesn’t matter. We’re in the mess we’re in and history has unfolded as it has with that one grand giant leap followed by the deflating sitting back down on our butts and going no further. :-(

    Its academic now, just as its academic that we could’ve gone to Mars and done so much else had the political will & inexplicably, the public interest, not dried up. :-(

    Obama put me off him forever when he unforgivably said that we not going back tothe Moon because we’ve been there. *We* haven’t. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepherd, Edgar Mitchell, Charlie Duke, Jim Irwin, John Young, Gene Cernan, & Harrison Schmitt have been. To a few small spots for a very short time decades ago. There is still so much left to see and do and learn.

    What if Spain had given up on the New World after Columbus and never returned?

    Some people think that would’ve been a good thing, I guess, the Native Amercians would have kept their land and way of life. Until the Chinese or Muslims or somebody else took them over – perhaps doing ever worse colonial stuff than we did – after exterminating and occupying Europe & our way of life along the way.

    The Moon has no natives, it offers a heck of a lot if we just have the vision, the courage and the wisdom to return there to stay.

    If we don’t someone else will – and we may not like what they do with it – if no one does, If Humanity stays stuck on this one world, one day death will come from the skies or from elsewhere.

    The Moon landing was Humanity’s peak, a peak we’ve yet to surpass – and that may be our greatest tragedy.
    ****

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    - President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

  10. Jacob Law

    I see your point, but isn’t it good that they are funding it regardless, sure congress can say to other countries “We’re on the Moon ner ner ner” but meanwhile the smart guys at NASA can be taking up research programs and actually doing good work, It’s not as if there’ll be a military presence on the Moon

  11. I’ve always hated the political aspect of space exploration. Yeah it drove a huge step forward in technology that got us to the moon, but that seems like an isolated incident. More often it just sloshes around a box of goals and hinders more than it helps.

    Maybe it’s because I was born long after the Apollo age, but I just don’t see the romanticized aspect of manned moon missions. It seems like a great deal of money and time spent on a process that has limited benefits. Even if it were to accomplish all of those goals that were set in the bill, it seems to be mostly pride. What place does pride have in science? What are the tangible long term benefits of sustained moon life relative to looking beyond our own backyard? Is this just a bunch of old farts in Congress trying to relive the grandeur of their youth?
    I really just feel like there are better things in which to invest NASA’s limited resources…

  12. Terry

    You really hit a nerve with me on this post. What we are missing is not the nachas of being on the moon, but the nachas of an agency that can actually get something done. The pride we felt was the pride-by-proxy that we felt from sharing in the creativity and courage of the astronauts and the engineers that supported them.

    NASA still has a lot of success, but it is a bureaucratic mess whose high profile failures obfuscate the effective science and exploration it is still capable of. Given the current risk-averse climate and lack of clear vision and role, I fear that NASA will fail this instruction unless and until it has the courage to embrace the same attitudes and culture that created the agency that earned that respect in the first place.

  13. Terry

    @Endyo:

    Don’t discount pride. Pride is what inspires us and ties us together. The pride of the moon landing wasn’t merely nationalistic pride – the entire world took inspiration and for a brief moment, we all knew that when our goals were lofty and directed, amazing things can happen. Science isn’t a verb. You don’t “science”. You use science to accomplish goals and at its best, it is a beacon, a standard we all hope to aspire to.

  14. Bethany

    The ultimate irony: “Space is the world’s ultimate high ground.” Why mention the ground when talking about space?

    If I were the congressional staffer writing this bill, I would have totally used a Star Trek quote, “Space, the final frontier, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

  15. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Terry : Well said & seconded by me. Pride matters. :-)

    @Chas, PE SE : “BTW, do people talking about “The Dark Side of the Moon” micropit your rocks as much as it does mine??”

    Well, it is a figure of speech, a metaphor true in the sense of unknown or lesser known.

    Of course, its all dark and what’s really meant is the unseen Far Side of the Moon as Pink Floyd say at the very end of the eponymous song if you listen carefully and long enough see :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRBz2VbSN8g

    (Circa 5 minute 20 second mark)

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_Damage_(song)

    &

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_side_of_the_Moon

    Still, yeah, depending on how pedantic a mood I’m feeling at the time. ;-)

    The Farside of our Moon, incidentally, is one of those places we’ve never landed – not people anyhow. One of so many other “Firsts” yet to be attained.

  16. Blaise Pascal

    Chas:

    I have no problem with people talking about “The Dark Side of the Moon”. It’s a great album and song.

    And “The Dark Side of the Sun” was a moderately good early novel by Terry Pratchett. It even had a character pointing out the impossibility of the dark side of the sun — before they found it.

  17. When I’m a sustained presence on the moon will there be the proper ingredients to fill me with nachos? I like being filled with nachos.

  18. @Terry:

    I didn’t use science as a verb, I just said that pride doesn’t have a place in it. The point is to experiment, learn, and expand human knowledge. The pride that we associate with being a beacon of inspiration does supercede that, but as we’ve seen it’s fleeting. After the moon landing, NASA funding dropped steadily year after year. It was literally about a race, not about the real benefits of moon exploration. With a universe filled with so much wonder and mystery, how can it be better to keep looking through the microscope? If we’re going to be so close to home, why not focus entirely on the terrestrial missions instead of the barren vacuous landscape of the moon? It is very clear that the goal is to put a shiny media gem on NASA that might distract people for a while… then they’ll be on the same boat they were in after Apollo 14.

  19. Grand Lunar

    I’m sick of politcians playing ping pong with the space flight program.
    Pick a destinaiton and stick with it! Sheesh!

    The points for going back to the moon may not seem the right reason to do so Phil, but it’s probably the only way to sell it within Congress.

    If this does (once again) become the law of the land, I hope that the funding is given toward it.

    This particular item is probably a very good reason:

    (6) A sustained human presence on the Moon would once again inspire and engage public interest in our space program, motivating young people to excel in the vital subjects of math and science, subjects in which American students lag behind our international competitors.

  20. Dark Side of the Moon.

    Ok, I’ve listened to that album probably 100 times all the way through and actually just listening. In other words, it wasn’t background music.

    And I’ve decided I just don’t like that album. I made Pink Floyd CD that has Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Final Cut, Wish You Were Here and The Division Bell.

    As far as I’m concerned, Animals is their best album by far. I’m not usually into the message as much as I am the music. It’s obviously a dark, pessimistic album but the music is phenomenal.

    When I’m listening to the mix in the car I skip songs I don’t like. And what I find is that I skip all the way through Dark Side of the Moon. There’s really nothing on it that I do like.

    As far as the topic goes, I’d really like to see a study of various types of orbiting supply stations to see if it helps or just costs a lot of money with no real benefit.

    I’ve seen arguments from both sides but I think going to the moon or orbiting Earth is just siphoning money away and keeps us from doing bigger things.

    But I admit that I’m ignorant of what it takes to get farther from Earth safely.

  21. Jens from Hamburg(GER)

    How about scraping nationalistic aspects this time and do it TOGETHER?

  22. MadScientist

    ‘Sustainable presence’? What does that mean? Look at how long it took just to set up the ISS – imagine deploying and provisioning a permanent lunar base!

    @GrandLunar#13: I doubt there will be any extra funds. Congress likes to ‘direct’ NASA and not put in any associated budget increase – it’s basically “hey, you *have* to do this – axe whatever else you need to get the job done”.

  23. Elmar_M

    The problem is that with big expensive throw away rockets such as the SLS, going to the moon will be soooooo expensive that we maaaaaay be able to do it again… once and then what?
    If you want to colonize the moon (even with a very small scale permanent moonbase, the size of the ISS) or make actual use of it in any reasonable way, then you have to go there not once, not twice, not 10 times, you have to go there maybe 100 times in quick succession (read within years, not half a century). This is impossible with the SLS, of which a single launch will cost 1.5 billion.
    1.5billion x100 = 150 billion just for the launches and then you have not financed a lunar transfer stage, not financed any lunar inftrastructure, like a moonbase, or anything like that.
    No, space access has to get signifficantly cheaper in order for a return to the moon to be in any way permanent and not simply another expensive one off stunt thing like the Apollo missions where. We have already done that. No need to repeat this.
    No, the next return to the moon should be permanent.
    The SLS wont do that and with that the Senate is simply blowing lots of expensive smoke.
    The SLS is nothing but a government jobs programme for workers at companies that are of interest to national security and provide jobs in certain districts – Senator Shelby, I am looking at you!

  24. Stargazer

    The high ground argument is stupid and shortsighted. First of all, why sustain unnecessary rivalry? Why extend nationality off Earth? Also, when you have this high ground, are you going to stop others from having the same thing? I don’t think this is going to improve international relations, but perhaps that’s not the intention.

  25. Matt

    I’m not sure why nobody in Congress is pushing this harder…but in case nobody has noticed we have finite resources on the earth. We can debate all day long about just how limited they are and when they’ll run out, but we all agree that they ARE limited.

    The only way humanity will survive another thousand years is with the resources we’ll find in space. We need to learn how to land on an asteroid, mine it for whatever it’s worth and bring the stuff back.

    The sooner we start investing in that kind of technology the sooner we’ll be able to experience those boons on Earth. Imagine if we could fly out into space and find an asteroid the size of a small city made out of iron, nickel, platinum, gold and a dozen other valuable commodities.

    Even if we’re not completely strapped for resources yet, making asteroid mining economical would improve the quality of lives across the planet.

  26. Lee

    That’s politics. When you really really want something to go through, you give enough different reasons to get a wide base to go along with it. You may not personally agree with all the reasons, but if you can get someone behind it who normally wouldn’t be, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning, that’s more support. Plus, if it fails, then you can use it as a club to beat your opponents over the head with. “See? Senator Doofus voted against the bill because he wants China and Russia to kill and eat your babies!” Personally, I hope we go for it, along with the Chinese, then get beaten there by a private company. That would just be too funny.

  27. Am I too dense (Shut up!) to figure out the joke with the photo of the Capitol building? :(

  28. A moon base and its transportation are off-the-shelf. (So was a Hubble space telescope as a KH-11 spy satellite pointing in the opposite direction. How well did NASA hobbyists work that out?)

    http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/nasa3.htm
    A monkey could do it.

  29. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ kuhnigget : I wouldn’t have thought so – you’ve always seemed pretty bright to me. ;-)

    (Even if we don’t always agree on everything which, is human & to be expected really.)

    We all have our moments mind, some of us (mea culpa) more than others.

    Congress just blowing smoke? Reckon there’s a metaphor or point of some sort in that. ;-)

    @26. Lee : “Personally, I hope we go for it, along with the Chinese, then get beaten there by a private company. That would just be too funny.”

    Agreed – although a three way tie with all of them landing simultaneously would be even better! ;-)

    I think that would certainly be healthier than just China getting there by itself and holding the whip hand over the rest of the Earth’s people.

    I am, as often the case, torn between hope and dread here. I hope the space companies and NASA are good enough to suceed. But NASA has been going nowhere much lately, the space companies are yet to really prove themselves. I dread teh thought of a Chinese moon and the nightmare of the same people who murdered their own students, ran them over with tanks and set fire to their corpses for daring to ask for freedom being in charge of the Human future. I hope my dreads turn out wrong and dread that my hopes will.

    @24. Stargazer : “Why extend nationality off Earth?”

    Because we’re human. That’s in our nature. We’re tribal animals at heart.

    Can we co-operate? Should we co-operate? Sometimes. Maybe.

    But with our eyes open and aware of our partners flaws and our own. I’d rather we co-operate between the West and Russia, India and Japan than China.

  30. Antti

    I think that Apollo was one of the greatest accomplishments in human history. I’ve watched the footage many times over the years and it still feels exciting and inspiring.

    Considering all that, I have mixed feelings about going back. As MadScientist commented, building the ISS has been a huge project and a lunar base could only be more so. As the whole shebang would take a decade, at the bare minimum, the worst case scenario would be the whole project being canceled before achieving anything more than what has already been done in Apollo. And meanwhile, another Cassini or MRO might’ve been sacrificed due to lack of funding.

    Also, nowadays a single, fatal accident would probably doom the project.

  31. John B.

    Listed Sponsors of the Bill: District
    Sheila Jackson Lee: TX- Houston
    Rob Bishop: Utah- 1st District (significant parts of NASA projects constructed by Utah based companies)
    Bill Posey: FLA- 15th District
    Pete Olson: TX- General Galveston Area

    I think we can pretty safely guess why this bill exists. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea (broken clocks are right twice a day and all).

    But you’re deluding yourself if you think has anything to do with science/optimism/stopping commies/whatever.

  32. Ray

    @CafeenMan,

    Is green cheese good for nachos?

  33. Wallace and Grommit didn’t care for it when they got there, Ray. I trust their judgment.

  34. @24. Stargazer : “I don’t think this is going to improve international relations, ..”

    Call me cynical but we’ll fully improve international relations about the same time we end world poverty, global hunger and hell freezes over.

    IOW, just not do-able. Not totally anyhow, though its a worthy noble unattainable goal – like other beauty pagent promises.

    Mind you, there are some regimes on this planet (eg. Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe) that you have to ask – would we really even *want* to be on *their* good side if we ever could be? The cost in our own cultural values would be too high and some nations would only be happy if we all died and vanished utterly from the world anyhow. :-(

    @20. CafeenMan :

    Dark Side of the Moon.Ok, I’ve listened to that album probably 100 times all the way through and actually just listening. In other words, it wasn’t background music.
    And I’ve decided I just don’t like that album. I made Pink Floyd CD that has Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Final Cut, Wish You Were Here and The Division Bell.

    Pink Floyd~wise, I need to be in the right mood for them but my fave would have ‘The Wall’ album.

    Love the “Another Brick in the Wall” song triptych, ‘Learning to Fly’, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’, ‘On the Turning Away’ and blazes so many more. My all-time favourite Floyd song though would have to be ‘Wish you Were Here’ [click my name] Emotional dynamite.

    @ 30. Antti : “Also, nowadays a single, fatal accident would probably doom the project.”

    Yup, we’re far too risk-averse, some might even say too cowardly and lacking backbone, these days. No doubt about that. :-(

  35. jfb

    A sustained human presence on the Moon is going to take a helluva lot more money than anyone’s going to be willing to spend. Ever. Apollo wound up costing something like US $170 bn in 2005 dollars, and that was just to get people there and back. Setting up a permanent habitat, extracting local resources (i.e., water), building a power plant (at least to provide power during lunar “night”), shipping supplies back and forth, that’s going to dwarf the cost of anything we’ve done to this point.

    This bill is about preserving jobs in someone’s district. We’ll build a couple of BFRs, put a few more boots down, and by that time the bill’s sponsors will have retired and nobody will give a crap for another 50 years.

  36. Michel

    JFK said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things…”
    Let´s finally do the other things up there.

    In the meantime for your amusement:
    http://www.neatorama.com/2011/04/25/the-great-moon-hoax/#more-45104

  37. @Jeff,

    Sadly, “young people” aren’t the only ones who have never seen a Moon landing. As much as I’d love to call myself a young person, I’m 35 years old. In my entire lifetime, we have never landed a man (or woman) on the Moon. Yes, I can watch the old recordings and that’s nice, but I would love to have a more current example to show my children.

    Besides, imagine all we could do this time around. HD broadcast live (or nearly so – time delays being what they are), web voting for questions to ask astronauts walking on the moon (how cool would it be to hear “YourUsernameHere asks …. ” during the moon walk?), perhaps tweets sent from the luner lander (let’s face it, those space suits aren’t designed for thumbs pressing small phone buttons). Let’s stretch the FourSquare check-in system to the limit and beyond! (Ok, I was kidding with that last one, but I’d take the silliness of “AstroLander has become the Mayor of the Moon” jokes boucing across Twitter if it meant we actually landed men on the Moon in my lifetime.)

  38. Congress wants NASA to go the Moon with more 0% interest Federal Funds??

    WAIT – All the “free” 0% interest subsidy money is at the oil companies: Why don’t we just declare the Moon extra-territorial – and therefore not covered by legal prosecution extradition treaties – and see just how many oil and car execs sign up to fund a trip to the Moon?

    Trials for crimes against Earth can’t be heard in Space!

    “True pirates know how to travel First Class …”

  39. viggen

    *sigh* I wish I were happy to read this, but it sort of instills a dread in me. Fact is that Washington is going around in circles. They had a lunar return mission on the bill already and they cut it. Given how technology works, there’s no reason for NASA to not just use the same equipment they were already planning from the version that was shut down. I don’t think Washington has any idea what they want a space agency for and I doubt any current space initiatives will survive beyond this president.

    We will be lucky if funding is steady enough for NASA to develop a manned space-launch capability in the next ten years, let alone a moon rocket. If anybody in this country had had any sense at all, we would’ve done with our Saturn V what Russia has done with their Proton… gotten really good at it! It would be nice if SpaceX built something that put the government completely out of the equation, but I don’t know if they’re anywhere near that.

  40. I can understand that it is stupid to throttle the money to NASA because that will hurt space exploration in general, getting back to the moon (and stay there) in particular etc.

    However, please don’t use the Apollo project as a reference of something we want to repeat.

    I’m not saying that we should not try to get to the moon (or try to stay there, doing a sustained living).

    What I’m saying is that no nation really should commit itself to get back to the moon AT THAT COST that the Apollo project had.

    The challenge for everyone today is to get things done in space at a much lower cost than the costs associated with the Apollo project or the space shuttle. THATS why it takes so long to realize that vision that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke had in ’2001′.

  41. Grand Lunar

    @23. Elmar_M Says
    Ed Kyle on the Space Launch Report has an alternative; use cheaper rockets and storable liquid propellant to top off an EDS and use that to get to the moon.

    Probably wouldn’t get you a lunar base (in his figures, it duplicates Apollo’s performance), but it would be repeatable (even if infrequently, as it’s meant to send lunar missions every other year).

    Of course, if we could make something like the Starbooster concept and use something like THAT to get payloads up for a lunar voyage, then we’d be in business.

    40. IllvilJa
    “The challenge for everyone today is to get things done in space at a much lower cost than the costs associated with the Apollo project or the space shuttle. THATS why it takes so long to realize that vision that Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke had in ’2001′.”

    For this reason, I see the private space companies as being the ones to make the visions of “2001″ a reality.Government has too many complications.

  42. Jon

    I don’t mind the language for a single reason. The military gets an amazing amount of money. It’s obvious where our priorities lie, and if we could tap into that monetary motivator of national defense to juice NASA and get a sustained presence on the moon, it might just make it happen. My only worry about it is that.. Well, if NASA isn’t really firing rockets or putting humans in space and it’s all private companies, what’s left for them but to get sucked into the military? If their funding comes from a national defense budget it could get complicated.

    I just hope the station is pretty deep underground. The surface sucks. Asteroid strikes, next to no atmosphere, tons of radiation, etc.

  43. jfb

    viggen @39:

    I don’t think Washington has any idea what they want a space agency for

    Well, they do, it’s just for purposes other than actual space exploration.

    It would be nice to have a buffer between NASA and Congress, so that Congress can set long-term goals and funding, but leave NASA to decide how best to accomplish those goals without politics dictating the engineering.

  44. chip

    Black smoke does that mean congress has yet to elect the new space pope?

  45. CB

    @Phil

    Some space advocates call Apollo a “flags and footprints” mission: get there just to get there. That’s what a space race tends to do. Once you win, what then? Well, you’re done. You’ve won.

    But when we go back to the Moon, it shouldn’t be a race. I want us to go back to stay. Get there, set up shop, figure out how to establish life there and then sustain it.

    I’m so on the same page with you here, Phil!

    I’m quite worried that Congress is going to specify a timeline and budget for this project that basically requires it to be a “flag and footprints” mission, just so we can “win” against China by repeating Apollo. It’s the wrong thing to do, for the wrong reasons too.

    And in the process, NASA will have to scrap all the interesting tech (like the in-orbit fuel depots they’re talking about) that will let us actually go beyond what we’ve done before, and not just go back to the Moon but go back and stay.

  46. BJN

    @ Messier Tidy Upper:

    Those 25 “reasons” look pretty lame. Going to the Moon for “hydrogen” or “extreme sports” are as dispensable as all but a couple of the list’s items.

    There are only two reasonably good reasons to go back to the Moon. The first would be to set up a stepping stone to human Mars exploration. The second would be to set up science observation facilities. I don’t think that either of those missions is imperative and we have a lot of robotic exploration to do before any Moon project makes sense.

    As to developing technology that will benefit mankind, we have to tend to spaceship Earth first and an “energy mission” is a lot more important to ensuring the future of our civilization than taking more baby steps to putting a handful of humans on an uninhabitable satellite at huge expense.

    And yes, what’s with the Capitol as Vatican?

  47. Rachael

    I find the bit about the high ground particularly disturbing. It’s a fear mongering thing, and I think also implies just a little that if it ever comes to a conflict, then hey we haver the moon. And I really, really don’t like that thought. And the moon isn’t supposed to belong to anyone in particular, right? So why get creepy and territorial about it…

  48. Rhettro

    I certainly think we should go back and back to stay. However, with the costs of rocket launches and the shear number of them that it would take to sustain a crew on the moon, I think a better first order goal is to build a “space elevator”. The space elevator would be a big ticket item at first and then would pay for itself many times over during its lifespan and would make access to space indispensable rather than a luxury.

  49. K

    If this is what it takes to get America back into space, I’m all for it, 100%. Face it, unless it’s for political reasons, governments will not budge. And maybe Apollo happened for the, “wrong,” reasons, look at all the good that came from it. We went to the MOON! Velcro! Microwave ovens!
    For that matter, I’m willing to write a paper about how we can use Mars as a 1st strike war base if that’s what it’ll take to get us actively moving forward as a species.

  50. Michel

    @ 42. Jon Says:
    April 27th, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Well, if NASA isn’t really firing rockets or putting humans in space and it’s all private companies, what’s left for them but to get sucked into the military?

    The private companies could do the moon job, the military can fight over those. And NASA? They could build more telescopes and do science. Everybody happy.

  51. Matt B.

    I agree with you, Phil. What happened to “We came in peace for all mankind”?

  52. Skouros

    Hi Phil. I just recently saw a program called ‘Moon For Sale’, on the Science Channel. I’ve seen this program before but I guess I missed the part where they interview a guy who own a company called Lunar Embassy. Apparently, this guy is selling plots or pieces of the moon. Please explain to me how this is possible. What gives or who gave him the right to do that? I thought the moon was part of some international treaty.

  53. CB

    @ 48 Rhettro:

    I certainly think we should go back and back to stay. However, with the costs of rocket launches and the shear number of them that it would take to sustain a crew on the moon, I think a better first order goal is to build a “space elevator”. The space elevator would be a big ticket item at first and then would pay for itself many times over during its lifespan and would make access to space indispensable rather than a luxury.

    A space elevator would be awesome sauce on a bad-ass enchilada with a side of amazing beans, but the materials and technology to make them are still out of our reach. While material science folk are working on the problem as hard as they can (for reasons that have nothing to do with space elevators), and have gotten within an order of magnitude of the required strength, and made macroscopic-length tubes (but not at the same time), “our first goal should be to build a space elevator” is basically saying we should be waiting for some sci-fi invention before doing things with known technology. Not warp speed or transporter degree of sci-fi, but still.

    If and when the building of a space elevator becomes feasible from a material science point of view, then we should make it our goal to build one. In the meantime, we either kinda have to assume we aren’t going to get one, or spend thirty years twiddling our thumbs waiting for it.

  54. It must be that time of the decade again…

  55. James

    We just need to stop arguing and start DOING.

    We need to go to both the Moon and Mars …’and’ build large rotating space habitats with artificial gravity and self sustaining food / oxygen supplies.

    Why?

    Because what is the point of the Human race, if we don’t push ourselves to the absolute limit and make use of the skills that we have?

  56. J. R. Braden

    “It fills me with nachas, as my mom would say”
    Is Momma Astronomer Jewish?

  57. Mike Mullen

    The question is does this bill mean Congress wants to make a concerted effort to return to the moon, or is it just a way to justify funneling more money into the SLS, knowing that some future Administration is bound to cancel it(it’s happened to every other such scheme since Apollo) and they’ll never actually have to deliver?

  58. dumbo

    52: “Apparently, this guy is selling plots or pieces of the moon. Please explain to me how this is possible.”

    Roughly the same way a gold-fringed flag in the courthouse means you don’t have to pay taxes.

  59. Chas PE SE:

    Here’s a question for you: What would you rather have?
    >>A Hubble-type orbiting telescope?
    >>A Hubble or bigger telescope attached to the ISS?
    >>A telescope on the backside of the Moon?

    How would the fact that a fixed lunar telescope would be in sunlight for 2 weeks at a time? And how would it communicate with the Earth-bound scientists using it?

    BTW, do people talking about “The Dark Side of the Moon” micropit your rocks as much as it does mine??

    Well, it sounds better than “backside”. :-) Though, as I understand it, “dark” is used in the sense of “unknown”.

  60. Skouros:

    Apparently, this guy is selling plots or pieces of the moon. Please explain to me how this is possible. What gives or who gave him the right to do that?

    I’m sure there is a disclaimer somewhere, where they tell you that it’s “for entertainment purposes only” (or something similar), and that you don’t really “own” anything other than a piece of paper. Sort of like the “Star Registry” that lets you “name” a star.

  61. I don’t like the idea of using the dreaded “other” as an impetus for space exploration.

    True. What’s wrong with simply stating that advancing science and knowledge is in the best interest of everyone, regardless of what “the other guys” are doing?

    Has any successful person ever said “I’m now ‘number one’, so I don’t need to do improve myself”? (And stayed successful, that is.)

  62. Dammit, now I want some nachos.

    (With real cheese, not that room-temperature-liquid Velveeta nonsense.)

  63. Frank Glover

    “How about scraping nationalistic aspects this time and do it TOGETHER?”

    Hmm. Yes, a program that’s held hostage to the continued good will of all parties involved, for the (finite?) length of the program. As well as yet another layer of bureaucracy. That’s what we need…

    “I think a better first order goal is to build a “space elevator”. The space elevator would be a big ticket item at first and then would pay for itself many times over during its lifespan and would make access to space indispensable rather than a luxury.”

    Requiring technology (mass with a capital ‘M’ production of carbon nanotubes) that won’t begin to be available for decades, giving you a slow ride up through the VanAllen belts to geostationary orbit…and little use to anyone with a need to access lower orbits. And a stationary target for all debris and functioning satellites that *are* in lower orbits (their orbits *must* cross the Equator where a Space Elevator must be located, twice each time…)

    Going back to the Moon is fine (and should indeed be done, regardless of what anyone else’s plans or schedule may be) , but doing it Congress’ way by repeating the architecture of missions on a single (or dual) launch of a Heavy Lift Vehicle, no evolving orbital assembly and refueling infrastructure that can use multiple launches of smaller existing vehicles is the fast-track to another Apollo-esq dead-end.

    We need an approach more nearly like this:

    http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/AffordableExplorationArchitecture2009.pdf

    …No international ‘cooperation’ or HLV (or serious change in the NASA budget) required.

  64. @ Chip #44:

    That’s what was confusing me. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out what the Vatican connection was. Once a lapsed Catholic, always a lapsed Catholic.

  65. Alan

    Dr. Tyson has had something to say about supposed motivations that sound like this: “We choose not to do these things because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSRJQqoH-B0&feature=related

  66. Thameron

    It may be naive of me, but I can hope that sometimes, when we do something as a nation it’s because it’s the right thing to do.

    Ah Phil I’m afraid it is naive of you. We do indeed do things as a nation. We invade and occupy other countries that don’t attack us, we watch sports, we watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, we get lazy, we get angry and we buy a lot of things we don’t really need (like weapons), but science for its own sake? Nah, we don’t do that. Not unless it is related to weapons.

    As a nation we will not be going to the moon, we will not be going to Mars, and we will not be going to any asteroids. Human beings won’t be leaving low earth orbit until long after your body goes into the ground (if ever). You have your robotic probes (for now) and you will just have to be satisfied with them.

    Face it – the darkness is growing faster than the candles.

  67. molybdenumfist

    My wife makes great nachos… now I know that I’m full of nachas and nachos. Nachos nachas – I think I may have learned something.

  68. zabazoom

    As a NASA brat during the Mercury, Gemini. and Apollo years it breaks my heart to see NASA funding year after year cut to nothing. Presidents who change at a whim the long term direction of the Agency. This is the short sighted vision that has been sold.

    Until there is a profit motivation to do so, no private corp is going to fund a lunar base let alone a mars one. Sure they will sell rides to the US GOV and Satellite makers, and maybe if we are Lucky Bigalow will launch space hotels, but the numbers getting to leave this dirtball are going to be very small for decades to come. (I purposely said decades because it normally turns out these estimates are proven wrong) I don’t see cruse ships in space as an option for a long time, even if there is a huge demand.

    All I know is that I will shed a tear as the last shuttle lands, and jump for joy when the first privateer carries a paying passenger.

  69. Troy

    That is the wrong mentality and the Moon isn’t very good high ground as it is too far away for surveillance or to launch a weapons system best done in low earth orbit. On the other hand if it can appeal to both doves and hawks it could garner more votes so why not throw as many bones out there even if some of the support comes from dogs. A little competition isn’t a bad thing. If China is on the Moon the U.S. brand will seem somewhat diminished. It is sort of like you want your brother to do well (cooperation)but there is also a bit of sibling rivalry in that you don’t want him to outshine you too much (competition). They aren’t mutually exclusive in families nor should it be in the family of nations.

  70. MadScientist

    @Elmar_M#23: Cool – 100 launches is still cheaper than a year’s war in Iraq.

  71. Ben H.

    Phil,
    With this stuff you just have to be happy they are proposing what us space geeks want. These are congressmen and we all know that those are the reasons they will fund the space program, to pretend otherwise is naive. I see no problem with political motivations, if it gets money in NASA’s pocket and rockets in space.

    You can’t at the same time say you approve of the Apollo program and what it did for our national education and such, and say you were disappointed with the motivations for it. It never would have happened if they hadn’t done it because of the soviets.

    Also, If you think that kids these days think of NASA as an organization that failed, you haven’t been paying attention and don’t hang out with kids very often. I work at NASA here in JSC and I’m constantly hearing from friends/family who have children that love NASA and envy my job and think I’m an astronaut (I’m not). Any “kids” that remember the big mistakes you referred to (Mars Polar Lander, Columbia, bad Hubble mirror etc.) are all 18-30 now, so I think your statement is completely inaccurate.

    Some more optimism please!
    - Ben H.
    Mission Control, Houston, TX

  72. Phil,

    You’re wrong on two counts regarding the national strategic importance of the Moon. The purpose of lunar return was never to simply “plant another flag” as Charlie Bolden seems to think or even to go there in spite of the fact that “we’ve been there” as the President seems to think. Let me briefly outline my perspective.

    1. We return to the Moon to learn how to use its material and energy resources to create new space faring capability (these are (almost) the literal words of the original Vision for Space Exploration, but were ignored by most). The logic is simple — if you can build a reusable, refuelable and extensible space transportation system that can access the lunar surface, you also have a system that routinely access any other point in cislunar space, where all of our national economic and security assets reside (and a not insignificant fraction of our scientific assets too.) This changes the paradigm of spaceflight in that we are no longer mass- and power-limited in space and hence, capability limited but rather, we are able to build and maintain large distributed space systems to accomplish any job that we can imagine. Right now, we cannot orbit any satellite that will not fit onto the biggest rocket we have. Shuttle and Space Station showed that larger systems can be built on orbit, IF you can get people to those orbits where such satellites are needed. A lunar resources-supplied space transportation system serves that need. It has obvious facility towards future missions to the planets (e.g., propellant for a human Mars mission), but also has serious national security implications for asset protection. Only a fool unilaterally disarms in the face of a potential adversary. “Trust — but verify.”

    2. A more philosophical rationale for lunar return is to ensure that a paradigm of free market, democratic pluralism prevails in the future cislunar space economy and civilization. Not all space powers share our societal beliefs about the nature of liberty and the value of the individual. If we are not there, we can have no voice in setting the rules. Regardless of whether you think that other space powers have only benign intentions, the only way we can protect human rights as we understand them is if we can project presence wherever we think such values should prevail. We now know that the Moon and other objects hold accessible wealth in the form of usable resources. I would much rather an American free market system be the operative principle of humanity in space than other systems that place much less emphasis on personal freedom.

    Both of these rationales deal specifically with national strategic considerations but neither of them have anything to do with the militarization of space or use of the Moon as an orbital weapons platform. Moreover, the Moon has value well beyond its former role as a theater for propaganda competitions, so this is likewise unrelated to any “flags and footprints” PR stunt rationale.

    http://www.spudislunarresources.com/Rationale.htm

  73. @Ben H
    “You can’t at the same time say you approve of the Apollo program and what it did for our national education and such, and say you were disappointed with the motivations for it. It never would have happened if they hadn’t done it because of the soviets.”

    That’s not the problem, Ben. I was 16 at the time of the first moon landing and I am still proud of America’s accomplishment that day. The actual problem in the aftermath of our success is we took the wrong lesson from Apollo.

    Apollo was done the way it was done (with an enormous super heavy lift vehicle) because that was the fastest way to beat the Russians to the Moon with a virtually unlimited budget and cost be damned, NOT because it was the most economically practical way. After that success a number of people came to the mistaken conclusion that because this was the way that the NASA had chosen to go to the moon, that it was the best way, so they continued to develop vehicles like they still had an unlimited budget with no incentive to make them cheaper The result was a shuttle that went many billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule and was tremendously expensive to operate, Venture Star that went over budget and was canceled because of that, and Ares I that went many billions over budget and behind schedule and canceled for that same reason. The entire development, building and launch costs for Falcon 9 to date are less than the cost of the launch pad tower for Ares I.

    If we are to become a true spacefaring nation with lots of people heading into orbit and to points out in the solar system and not just a few specially chosen government employees, the cost of getting out there must be brought down. The competition of free enterprise is the way to accomplish this. Spaceflight is the only form of transportation to which this fundamental feature of American society has yet to be applied. Commercial competition in human space flight is the way to make sure that the U.S. is the leading nation in the final frontier in the future.

  74. TerryEmb

    @71: And about a month, maybe two, of welfare expenditures at the U.S., State, and Local government levels. What’s your point?

  75. aerodynamic

    when opposing nations nuke the crap out of each other on the moon ‘cuz a piece of debris from chinese moon territory floated over american moon territory we might get a very pretty light show down here on the earth. the future of space-based nuclear-armed conflict is full of pretty shiny light-shows! pave the way, America!!! *salutes*

  76. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ aerodynamic : *salutes*

  77. TerryEmb

    @76 aerodynamic: Um… so you think that China choosing to build a 130 ton lift rocket and promise to build national space station aren’t done to achieve the ‘ultimate high ground’? So, China is allowed to be Realist but the United States must reject such considerations?

    I’d rather have competition drive us into space than cooperation keep us on the ground.

  78. I would say, to the Moon, Mars and beyond, seeking for new life in new worlds, that is the idea. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysTMByWXphQ

  79. Aloha
    To 21. Jens from Hamburg(GER) Says:April 27th, 2011 at 8:32 am
    “How about scraping nationalistic aspects this time and do it TOGETHER?”
    and to 69. zabazoom Says: April 28th, 2011 at 12:29 am
    “Until there is a profit motivation to do so, no private corp is going to fund a lunar base let alone a mars one. ”

    This is why many feel that now is the time (historically and economically) to launch the International Lunar Research Park – a multinational, massively participatory effort by commercial, governmental and university entities to work together creating a physical presence with infrastructure that will facilitate development of the moon and its rich environment and resources. By sharing the cost of landing zones, labs, warehouses, and other equipment the ILRP will lower the individual cost to access the moon. No one company can invest to return profit on the moon in a reasonable time, but many together can. At first this will be robotic, then for humans. It will be designed to grow and stay.
    I invite readers to check out:
    https://sites.google.com/site/internationallunarresearchpark/purpose-and-scope
    and participate.
    See you on the dark (and light) side!

  80. Messier Tidy Upper

    @79. TerryEmb Says:

    @76 aerodynamic: Um… so you think that China choosing to build a 130 ton lift rocket and promise to build national space station aren’t done to achieve the ‘ultimate high ground’? So, China is allowed to be Realist but the United States must reject such considerations? I’d rather have competition drive us into space than cooperation keep us on the ground.

    Both aspects play their roles and have their place methinks. What’s with all the binary zero-sum thinking? We can co-operate and compete simultaneously. Much like team mates in motorsports in F1 or Indycars / NASCARs. 8)

    I guess it might be worth noting that co-operation gave us the International Space Station (& Apollo-Soyuz one-off hook-up,anyone remember that?) whilst competition gave us the first men in space (Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepherd) and the Moon landings.

    ***

    Penultimate Shuttle launch in 5 hours, 237 min 33 secs.

  81. Messier Tidy Upper

    D’oh! Thinking pesky binary where did that rogue ’2′ come form? :-o

    That was meant to be 5 hrs, 37 min & 33 secs.

    Now 5 hours 35 minutes & 55 seconds – and counting. ;-)

  82. Kanata

    China is going after the helium-3 for their nuclear fusion plans. There are one million tons of helium-3 on the Moon’s surface that could meet mankind’s energy demand for a century or more. There are only a little more than 10 tons of helium-3 on the Earth. The Russians have also expressed an interest in going to the Moon for helium-3 too. Both India and China have sent space probes in the last few years to map the Moon for the location of helium-3 deposits.

    Now the US is getting into the act. Congress has before it Bill-HR 1641 instructing NASA to go to the Moon by 2022. Among the reasons given are:

    (7) A sustained human presence on the Moon would challenge American industry to continue to develop technologies that not only enhance our exploration programs but can be applied across all disciplines of science.

    (12) China and Russia, understanding the economic and strategic importance of human space flight, have declared their intentions of colonizing the Moon and are advancing their lunar exploration plans.

    (13) It is strategically important that the United States possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the space domain, and not cede the space domain to other nations.

    Clearly the US doesn’t want China or Russia to monopolize that helium-3. So this is the first real space race among humankind.

  83. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Kanata : Hmm … I’m pretty sure the Last Space Race between the Soviet Empire and the United States that started with the launch of Sputnik and ended with the USA landing multiple times upon the Moon was real too! ;-)

  84. @52: It is protected by an international treaty – that no Nation or country could ever own the moon.

    The treaty never said anything about individuals.

    I heard of the story a while back and it’s hysterical. He basically laid claim to the moon and never was denied.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090717-who-owns-moon-real-estate.html

    As for this type of venture… There’s no hope for a government other than China to successfully go to the moon. Every other spacefaring government can’t afford it. The only reason Americans will ever set foot on the moon or Mars is either on the dime of money-oriented corporations (see: Avatar) or, like Colbert stated a earlier this month, if there’s a military reason (Aliens or Multinational conflict/power grab).

  85. @ ^ Vogie : treaties are just “ink on a page” to quote Londo Mollari in Babylon 5.

    Who knows if they’ll really be honoured in the future?

    I doubt they will be.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (9) said:

    *We* haven’t. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepherd, Edgar Mitchell, Charlie Duke, Jim Irwin, John Young, Gene Cernan, & Harrison Schmitt have been. To a few small spots for a very short time decades ago. There is still so much left to see and do and learn.

    Agreed. I might also include the crews of Apollos 8, 10 and 13, and the Command module Pilots of Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 & 17.

    All told, 24 people have been there (some of them – such as Jim Lovell, who was on Apollo 8 and commanded Apollo 13 – went there twice).

  87. Maybe it’s just because I’m a bit idealistic, or maybe it’s because I’m not American/Russian/Chinese, but I want us to complete these big goals as an international effort. I want man to return to the moon and voyage to the planets as a joint effort for all our benefits.

    However it’s all Pie in the Sky as long as politicians are involved.

  88. I think it’s shortsighted to contemplate the moon above all else. If one wants to go to the moon that option will be available through the ‘new commercial’ launch providers within three years or so via SpaceX for a lot less than Congress wants to spend.

    What if Congress insisted upon an enabling space program? One that would build vehicles capable of reaching multiple destinations while making the most of new technologies and finding cheaper ways to achieve whatever that latest space goal might be?

    Congress is choosing slow and expensive, that is a risk to this countries preeminence in space.

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