back to article SPACED OUT: NASA's manned Orion podule pushed back to 2023

NASA's plan to carry out manned space missions beyond Earth's low orbit has stalled to 2023. The American astro-boffins were aiming to deploy the Orion manned capsule in 2021, but the program has stumbled. A prototype Orion capsule has already made a brief unmanned test flight atop a Delta IV Heavy launch stack, in December …

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  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Meh

    "Astronauts will fly for the first time on EM-2

    EM-2 - Elon Musk 2, by SpaceX.

    Help us, Elon Musk- you're our only hope... - NASA Astronauts

    51 years! Fingers out, NASA!!

    1. VeganVegan
      Go

      Re: "Astronauts will fly for the first time on EM-2

      If Elon Musk were to crowd source funds for a Martian mission, I would gladly contribute, and I am sure there will be millions like me.

      1. Waspy

        Re: "Astronauts will fly for the first time on EM-2

        Crowdfunding? This is a proper company, you mean IPO? Yes I too would happily buy many shares from that firm but Musk has ruled that out until he has got properly into space.

    2. GX5000

      Re: "Astronauts will fly for the first time on EM-2

      Funny, how long did it take them to go from 0 to Moon back in the good old days ?

      1. phuzz Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "Astronauts will fly for the first time on EM-2

        "Funny, how long did it take them to go from 0 to Moon back in the good old days?"

        About half a million years if you're just talking about Homo sapiens. It really depends on when you set your 0.

        If the human race absolutely had to get someone to the moon, we could probably do it in about a year, as long as they weren't too fussed by the odds of survival.

  2. Alister Silver badge

    Since then, NASA has laid out new plans to ignore the Moon, build the SLS, and gradually develop it from its initial relatively feeble configuration (able to lift 70 tonnes to orbit) into a real heavy-lifter more powerful than the 118-tonner Saturn Vs of yesteryear. Such an SLS Block 2 would perhaps be able to lift an Orion plus the necessary lander and habitat for a manned Mars flight.

    Surely no-one really thinks that a direct Planet-surface to Mars mission is a sensible idea? Why would you burden the Mars-bound spacecraft with the necessity to climb out of Earth's gravity well?

    Earth orbit is the only sensible starting point for a Mars mission, whether you build the craft there, or lift the completed thing up from the planet before fuelling and provisioning.

    1. The_Idiot

      It's more sensible...

      ... right up until the time you, um, don't do it.

      In fifty years we haven't, to my mind, made even one small step towards building and orbiting the type of infrastructure needed for such an exercise. Yes, we've (for some arbitrary value of 'we') put up a small room where people can take pictures, play the guitar (no insult intended to any specific photographers or musicians), and carry out small lab experiments. And we've done it while budgets are cut, funding withdrawn, and the chances of building an orbital construction center, or even an orbital parking lot, seem to disappear into the distance (if they were ever more than a mirage).

      The politicians don't care. The public don't care. And even if engineers care, most of them not called Elon are broke and not listened to.

      Or at least that's my view. Of course, I'm an Idiot...

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: It's more sensible...

        "I'm an Idiot..". No, but you had an Idiot president who rather made war than supported NASA.

        1. Shrimpling

          Re: It's more sensible...

          "an" as in singular?

          I think there have been multiple US presidents who preferred making war to supporting NASA.

          1. Gene Cash Silver badge

            Speaking of American presidents...

            It's unfortunate, but the way the American people are, now that they have developed all this capability, instead of taking advantage of it, they'll probably just piss it all away.

            -- President Lyndon Johnson, on the Apollo program

    2. Esme

      The trouble is that no-one has ever assembled a multi-stage spacecraft in orbit. This is not likely to be easy. Provisioning, yep, that could be OK, but fuelling? Trying to transfer fuel at cryonic temperatures in orbit woudl be a seriously non-trivial task. maybe lofting a full tank which is tehnbolted into place? Grand idea, hope those seals are OK. Of coruse, you could do QA checks, but if anything fails them, what are you going to do, de-orbit them and loft the whole thing again? Better to send more or less everything ready-built and quality-checked on Earth up in one direct throw, no?

      Whilst I'm generally supportive of Zubrin's postion on how best to get to Mars (see 'The Case for Mars'), and so far as I can see his assesment of the mass required may be OK, one thing I am a tad dubious about is the amount of living space the astronauts would have. That said, perhaps something as simple as docking with a Bigelow Aerospace BEAM unit to add living space might be all that's required, if the journey is to be done in freefall. It'd certainly be safer in a BEAM than in a traditional 'tin-can' vessel, although of course a 'tin-can' type is what's needed for passing through atmospheres. Better yet would be if the actual Mars ship can be tethered to the spent previous stage and teh whole assemblage spun slowly to give at least minimal g for teh astronauts to live in. Which is also a concept that hasn;t yet been tested.

      It was the concept of having to construct a large spaceship in orbit that sunk the notion of going to Mars directly after Apollo, along with some fairly silly notions about the types of trajectories and length of stay on Mars (basically, least total mission time was aimed for, which resulted in least time on Mars, maximum time in freefall and maximum radiation dose partly due to a Venus 'fry-by' on the way home).

      But anyway, it boils down to that if we want to get to Mars soon, then we need to avoid the mission relying on stuff that we haven;t done in orbit before. Which, so far as I can see, means docking one, maybe two things to another thing is ok, resupply is OK, but refuelling is a no-no. Otherwise it could be decades more before we send anyone to Mars, what with testing how to construct ships/refule ships in orbit multiple times first, not to mention testing tethering systems for 'artificail gravity'. I would be utterly delighted to be shown to be wrong.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        The trouble is that no-one has ever assembled a multi-stage spacecraft in orbit. This is not likely to be easy

        These are BR-Hard (base reality hard) problems which need some solving. mitigating or avoiding. Welcome to the Hardness of the Real!

        Otherwise it could be decades more before we send anyone to Mars, what with testing how to construct ships/refule ships in orbit multiple times first

        On the other hand, there is no particular hurry. Maybe doing a moon-shot ultra-high-political-risk one-shot followed by a century-long-hiatus is not the best example to follow.

      2. Martin Budden

        The trouble is that no-one has ever assembled a multi-stage spacecraft in orbit.

        such as the ISS, for example

    3. Shtumped

      Exactly....We should also get the moon involved. Set up a base on the moon that we always restock. Use the moons lower gravity to explore the rest of solar system. Restocking mars from earth will be very expensive. However a base on the moon can be used as a base to ping other planets.

      Finally the whole approach to space is slightly flawed - if there was an emergency evacuation after generations have lived there then the whole earth would have to get involved in that process. Knowing these facts why are we still setting up a future of fragmented space exploration yet we are fully aware of possibilities like aliens, entire missions disappearing....etc ... its time to merge these space agencies ASP.

    4. Jaybus

      Earth orbit is the only sensible starting point for a Mars mission

      Why not one of the L4 or L5 Earth-Moon Lagrangian points? If a heavy lift vehicle is available, then expend more of the fuel over a longer period of time and assemble the mission vessel at L4 or L5.

    5. Zolko

      Moon

      Earth orbit is the only sensible starting point for a Mars mission

      Moon is actually much much better: you have proper gravity, but still no atmosphere. You can start building the mega-spaceship and spend 10 years doing it, interrupting when funds are low, without having to worry what will happen to it in the mean time.

      The Moon, definitively.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I feel for NASA

    I remember, as a seven year-old Brit, watching the moon landings on a huge (to me) school TV and thinking Mars couldn't be many years away. How wrong I was.

    From my perspective it appears that NASA has continually been hobbled by the lack of a consistent vision within government and the necessity to farm out its various works 'fairly' across the states/corporations.

    I can't decide whether my best hopes for Mars now reside with the Chinese (or India racing up the inside?) or with Elon Musk who certainly seems to have a driving vision and the money to back it up. I don't have any real faith in the 'reality show colonization' of Mars but I would like to see !someone! on Mars before I die. (Sure won't see it afterwards).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I feel for NASA

      I don't have any real faith in the 'reality show colonization' of Mars but I would like to see !someone! on Mars before I die

      Build cheap but untested technologies, and man them with criminals.

      Letting convicts have Australia (rather than transporting the law abiding there) now looks to have been a mistake from the point of view of the resident Brits, but in this case I don't think Mars is looking the sort of place you could see as a great destination.

      In fact, once the rockets have stopped going "bang" or whizzing off course spreading crim DNA across the galaxy we could make Mars a penal colony, and send everybody sentenced to more than six months.

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        Re: I feel for NASA

        "Build cheap but untested technologies, and man them with Syrians and Afghans"

        Corrected it for you

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: I feel for NASA

          Well, "Taliban" and "ISIS" are CIA-Pakistan-Saudi-Arabia-fuelled untested things manned by Syrians and Afghans, but they are not technologies, they are anti-technologies.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not Rocket Science.

    2015 - 1972 = 43 years.

    FFS.

    1. Professur

      Re: It's not Rocket Science.

      The mere testing of this will take longer than the entire Apollo program.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    It's not Rocket Science.

    2015 - 1972 = 43 years.

    FFS.

    1. GregC
      Facepalm

      Re: It's not Rocket Science.

      2023 (when the manned launch is scheduled) - 1972, however, = 51 years....

  6. DropBear Silver badge

    "Since then, NASA has laid out new plans to ignore the Moon, build the SLS, and gradually develop it from its initial relatively feeble configuration (able to lift 70 tonnes to orbit) into a real heavy-lifter more powerful than the 118-tonner Saturn Vs of yesteryear."

    Ah, so this is what it looks like when you decide to refactor hardware...

  7. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "It's no secret that SpaceX has designs on the drawing board for new engines and rockets that could make an SLS Block 2 look puny, "

    First off, nothing in that linked article suggests a departure from standard binary fuel/oxidizer engine technology, just bolting more of them together if I read the article right.

    "[and] which would probably cost an awful lot less to boot."

    Nothing in the article shows this to be a given either. In fact, PREDICTION: No it won't, not without creative accounting after the fact.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Bah!

      In This Thread: Technological development does not exist and MIC pork barrels emburden every endeavour in the US.

  8. Little Mouse

    Interpreter Zhcchz

    I'm reminded of that moment in Skizz, when, on hearing that "we've already reached the moon", he realises that he is doomed to remain on Earth forever.

    I'm feeling a bit like that too.

  9. Grikath Silver badge

    Within a couple of years....

    The Chinese will be making practice landings on the Moon, and looking further ahead...

    Then, and only then, will NASA/SpaceX/etc. get the mandate and the budget to do something, as the Politicians suddenly wake up.

    It's almost like the 60's...

    1. Shtumped

      Re: Within a couple of years....

      Hopefully the Chinese are planning to set up a base on the moon. It will prove to be more useful especially for future NASA launches to Mars. If they joined the Russians for ISS they happily go the moon with the CSA if it allows them to do other stuff.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Within a couple of years....

        Hopefully the Chinese are planning to set up a base on the moon

        "Master Wu's Moon Noodles - Now with extra Moon Shrimp!"

  10. Chozo

    That giant leap for mankind has become small footnote

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    And where are they going to get the engineers from...

    ... if they're being arrested as soon as they put a clock together?

    1. Down not across Silver badge

      Re: And where are they going to get the engineers from...

      Same as before I guess. Import them from other countries.

    2. Anonymous John

      Re: And where are they going to get the engineers from...

      "American teenager arrested for interest in science"

      http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/international/american-teenager-arrested-for-interest-in-science-20150917102035

  12. Mikel

    president’s budget request.

    Every administration retasks NASA to build their own enduring science legacy in a fifteen year plan, cancelling the grand plans of their predecessors to move their achievements out of the potential shadow of the former administration. And then Congress prevents it. And then four or eight years later the weak compromise is cancelled by a new administration to put their stamp on a new enduring science legacy...

    By the time NASA gets men to Mars, on arrival they will be having an espresso at the Starbucks on the patio at Musk Interplanetary Spaceport #4.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    pass t'pot noodle and a barra of Opus

    ee lad. No Opus Caementicium on t'Moon! Ow ya expect t'av Moon Base on Moon without Opus Caementicium? Before you can do anything lad y'need Opus Caementicium. Before Mission Control were built they ad to use Opus Caementicium...even Launch Pad were built on Opus Caementicium!

    Oww...Lime Burn!

  14. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Downvote bait.

    In my not so humble opinion it doesn't make sense to send humans further than into earth orbit for, say, the next 100 years. Why send anyone to Mars? Apart from the very real possibility of death in action, what can a human do that machines cannot do (and very much better). For the life supporting system for _one_human you can send an amazeball fuckload (that's a technical term) of machines.

    I had this discussion with a relative and almost got slapped in the face (but, frankly, no better argument than "but it's cool!"), hence icon for what will happen to this post.

    1. ~mico
      Boffin

      Re: Downvote bait.

      Better arguments? I've got them.

      >what can a human do that machines cannot do (and very much better).

      1. Control the machines. It takes several minutes (10 - 30) to send a signal there from Earth, which is too late for most sorts of even minor emergency, and our robots are only good at turtle slug speeds of 1 meter per hour and with all 6 wheels firmly on the ground. Which brings us to...

      2. Scale the terrain. There's probably no other mechanism on Earth, hand-made or biological, that can climb from hundreds of meters below water to the summit of Everest, with very little equipment. Machines won't be there for decades.

      3. Improvise. When tackling the Unknown, a machine can be designed for many contingencies, but a small stone lodged here, or a wire torn there, or a drop of oil clogging that - and it's disabled. A human on site can fix in minutes or hours, what ground crew at NASA will take 5 years (and a new mission) to handle.

      In short, with currently available technology, a permanent base on Mars can perhaps be developed, if humans are on site, but probably not otherwise. Sure, we can land some ready-made habitats there, but nothing more permanent or safe. It would be tin cans all over again.

      P.S. perhaps with an advent of 3d-printing, a proper concrete base could be created on Mars by machines... but it's still more fiction than science at this point.

      1. Esme

        Re: Downvote bait.

        You missed that a self-supporting colony on Mars would mean that we couldn't all get wiped out by a single asteroid strike.

    2. TimeMaster T
      Childcatcher

      Re: Downvote bait.

      One of the best arguments I've heard for space exploration, or at least a self sustaining lunar colony, is to provide a "life boat" for Humanity.

      About 60-80 thousand years ago there was a volcanic event (link at bottom) that according to many reduced Humanity to a total population of less than 10,000 individuals on the entire planet. Think about that for a moment.

      10,000, including children, on the ENTIRE PLANET.

      That is less than number of people who worked in ONE of the NY World Trade center towers.

      It was only by luck that the Human species survived, many other creatures, including some other Hominids did not.

      When, and it is a "when", not an "if", there is another such event we may not be as lucky. As a species we are less equipped to survive now than we were back then. Having a self sustaining large gene pool away from Earth, be it of the moon, Mars or habitats at the Lagrange points, would at least ensure that our species and technologies survived.

      That is why we need to explore space. Learning about other planets and gaining a better understanding of our own is just a bonus.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory#Genetic_bottleneck_theory

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

        Unless you have a full industrial base, with plenty of exploitable resources (not available on Moon) and energy (available on Moon but a function of the extent of the full industrial base), it is not a life boat, just a one-way trip to nowhere.

        Having a self sustaining large gene pool away from Earth, be it of the moon, Mars or habitats at the Lagrange points, would at least ensure that our species and technologies survived.

        Yes, but we are not there any time soon.

        Laundry list: Nanoassemblers and portable fusion power and full skills in genetic design and human-level AI and lifetimes of several hundred years. Get cracking.

        1. ~mico
          Boffin

          Re: Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

          >nanoassemblers

          While nice for large-scale conquest of the universe, they're an overkill for solar system base, or even first bases elsewhere. A more conventional replicator will do: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clanking_replicator

          >portable fusion

          Totally unnecessary on the moon (where solar power is highly available). Could help on Europa and other water/light element worlds, but much less on Mars, which doesn't have too much water. On the pretty dry Moon those are almost useless (though I realize the colonists will have hydrogen as a by-product of oxygen generation, at least before they establish a closed carbon cycle).

          >genetic design

          Useful for terraforming, but i predict it'll take some time till humans readily undergo genetic manipulation themselves. Theoretically, one can design a space-capable body, complete with solar cells, closed oxygen/carbon/nitrogen cycles, vents to absorb interstellar gases and even jet engines or solar sails... In a few million years that's what we can become, if that's the path we choose.

          >human-level AI

          at this point, why colonize? Just send pieces of "computronium" anywhere, they don't care where they land, the AIs there (and uploaded humans) will exist in simulated realities having no dependence on actual physical surroundings. That's the alternate path, but it too is way in the future.

          No, I believe we could create a self-sustainable base using modern-day technology alone. Some of the necessary machinery already exists, some will need to be developed, but those are engineering, not technology problems. And cost, yes, the cost.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Holmes

            Re: Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

            No, I believe we could create a self-sustainable base using modern-day technology alone

            Sorry to come across as snarky but these are the dreams of youth, mid-twen-cen SciFi and the city office dweller.

            Once you think about how long the production chain and how large the capital infrastructure must be to produce something as simple as an electric motor from raw materials in a friendly environment and a kinda-optimizing kinda-working economy and how rapidly disrepair accumulates even in organizations where funding can be forcefully secured from the populace, you will realize that "self-sustainable base using modern-day technology alone" will be like the Nostromo for a couple of weeks. Then the oxygen recycler dies.

            1. Death Boffin
              Boffin

              Re: Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

              "Once you think about how long the production chain and how large the capital infrastructure must be to produce something as simple as an electric motor from raw materials in a friendly environment and a kinda-optimizing kinda-working economy and how rapidly disrepair accumulates even in organizations where funding can be forcefully secured from the populace..." -Destroy All Monsters

              The thing is for space exploration, you do not need all that capital infrastructure. The reason that infrastructure is there to make the electric motor is that you are making them by the boatload; hopefully cheaper than your competitor's factory. On Mars, you only have to make it cheaper and faster than you can get it from Earth. So some kind of very inefficient, but very flexible fabricator is needed to produce the parts you need. This starts the process of building your own capital infrastructure on Mars, a little bit at a time.

              1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

                Re: Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

                On Mars, you only have to make it cheaper and faster than you can get it from Earth.

                No, because you are not in competition with goods from Earth for some local customers: There are no local customers, there will only be a command economy (which is to say, no economy at all). The problem is just making it at all as needed by the colonists. We are talking "self-sufficient with today's tech". The "very flexible fabricator" (can it produce a CPU? How about a hammer or a toothbrush?) does not exist today. Plus it needs to be fed with the necessary raw materials, which may be hard to come by on Mars or Moon.

                1. ~mico
                  Alien

                  Re: Like having a Carrier Group without a nation state to support it

                  >can it produce a CPU?

                  You'll probably need a mini-fab for chippery, a couple of 3d-printers and programmable routers for parts, a chem lab to produce the raw materials, and a few assembly robots humans to put those parts together. The equipment in question should be ready-made on earth from parts only made by the first generation of this machinery, to avoid a sad case of "wait, we didn't plan on being able to make that gear wheel!".

                  Of the above, the only problematic part is the mini-fab, with high-purity compounds it requires, therefore chips, as an exception, and being small, can be shipped from earth as a supply. They're also quite cheap.

      2. John 62

        Re: Downvote bait.

        The problem with getting humans off earth is keeping in contact. The vast cost to get a minimally viable colony somewhere means that the colony will be culturally and genetically isolated. Not a problem if humanity on earth is obliterated, but if humanity on earth is not obliterated, well they'll be reduced to sending the equivalent of postcards or more likely, no communication at all. And that makes me think of the back-story of Warhammer 40000, with the Emperor's crusade to unite the fractured remnants of humanity scattered across the galaxy (and exterminate the colonies that resist or that are too genetically deviant from Terran stock).

        On the other hand, bring back Outcasts! It had its problems, but I really miss it.

        1. x 7 Silver badge

          Re: Downvote bait.

          " the colony will be culturally and genetically isolated"

          better make sure the colonists all come from Norfolk, or somewhere else where incest is the norm.

          Close inbreeding didn't do the Pitcairn Islanders much harm

    3. Anonymous John

      Re: Downvote bait.

      Why send anyone to Mars? Why indeed? Why fly to America with the very slight chance of dying in a plane crash?.You've already seen pictures of the place, and can speak to Americans over the phone.

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