back to article Boeing details 'Deep Space Gateway' for Mars mission staging

Aerospace outfit Boeing has detailed the hardware it thinks humanity will need to stage a piloted mission to Mars. Boeing is already working with NASA to develop the Space Launch System (SLS), the very heavy lifter it's hoped will power a Mars shot. Now it's also offered up conceptual designs for other kit that it thinks will …

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Nice idea

Too bad it won't be going anywhere. Because once Trump gets ousted (I highly doubt he'll make it to a full term without either getting impeached or killing is all in nuclear fire) NASA budgets and budgets get porkbarreled again, and the SLS will get scrapped for the next inane, rehashed, stupid idea that gets the US nowhere fast. Meanwhile India and China are catching up and SpaceX and possibly Blue Origin are making the entire US space program look like idiots.

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Re: Nice idea

I was under the impression that the only reason SLS has got as far as it has, is because it's already providing plenty of pork for the right politicians and their constituencies.

In fact, as far as I can tell, trump hasn't altered the funding for the SLS at all, neither increased nor decreased it.

SLS may, or may not fly, but so far trump hasn't affected it's chances either way.

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Re: Nice idea

I agree; ten years ago this might have seemed like a great advance, but now that SpaceX has demonstrated a reusable first stage it just seems like a blast (off) from the past.

NASA needs to focus its budget on the technologies that aren't being developed by the private space industry and get the basis of true interplanetary vehicles worked out; the main theme has to be low-thrust, long-duration engines with high specific impulse.

NASA's, and others, experience with the ISS has given them a lot of information about living in space for extended periods, but they need to reduce the time take to travel interplanetary distances before manned exploration can really be practical.

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Re: Nice idea

NASA needs to focus its budget on the technologies that aren't being developed by the private space industry and get the basis of true interplanetary vehicles worked out; the main theme has to be low-thrust, long-duration engines with high specific impulse.

Low thrust/high impulse engines are certainly useful, but it's worth looking at them in conjunction with lunar-sourced resources, too. The whole issue of interplanetary travel gets a lot easier when most of your mass, like propellants, doesn't come from Earth.

A more-certain alternative to lunar hydrogen is lunar oxygen and lunar sulfur. The resulting brimstone rocket has a low impulse - about 250 - but that's sufficient to escape the moon and operate a transport network between Earth, the moon, and LaGrange points, where ion engined spacecraft might park.

Luna's resources have an advantage over the asteroids and Mars in the short travel time, even though velocity requirements are similar. Everything's easier in a pioneering in situ resource facility when you're 3 days (or less) away. Whenever something breaks or doesn't work as planned - and vacuum mining operations will get something wrong initially - the replacement can be delivered more quickly. Three days is also short enough for an evacuation of an ill or injured astronaut.

Which brings up another role for the NASA beyond engines: building infrastructure. Governments have a track record of building infrastructure projects that private industry won't invest in. Sometimes those projects turn out to be white elephants, sometimes they're grossly over budget and off schedule, but they wouldn't be built by entirely private industry and funding. A lunar mining operation is a candidate.

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Coat

Re: Nice idea

@cray. Why not make a huge railgun on the Moon and fire those crazy fuckers at Mars from that? Use your sulphur to slow them down on the way. You can make all the infrastructure out of aluminium from the lunar rocks. Put the rails around the equator, whizz them around for a while until the planets align and off you go. Power it all from the Sun. What can go wrong? It'd be a bit of work to set up, after all, the Moon is a harsh mistress. I'm pretty sure no lunatic would use it to throw iron coated boulders at Earth.

p.s. For scale. Circumference of Moon, 6,786 miles. Railway tracks in Great Britain, 9,817 miles.

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DJO

Re: Nice idea

The acceleration needed on a lunar railgun to fire a ship to Mars to get there in under a year would squish the crew into a thin film of raspberry jam.

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Re: Nice idea

"The acceleration needed on a lunar railgun to fire a ship to Mars to get there in under a year would squish the crew into a thin film of raspberry jam."

When you get to these kinds of accelerations, the best thing to do is be in a tank of water.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Nice idea

Acceleration. OK, read the post again, the rails go all the way around the Moon, it's a very long railgun. The gun slowly accelerates our intrepid crew over a period of time, they can do several circuits if necessary. Here's some arithmetic. Viking 1 took 10 months to get to Mars with a lander, and its maximum speed was 9000 miles an hour, that's 4km/s. Let's add on 2.5km/s for the Moon's escape velocity. If you are travelling around an equator with a radius of 1738km at 6.5 km/s, the acceleration you'll experience is v²/r = 6500²/1738000 = 24 m/s² due to the roundy-roundy less the gravity due to the moon . About 2.3g. No problem, you can leave your trunks at home, Alan! We can also use the thing to fling supplies at Mars and everything else on the ecliptic in the solar system. I reckon it's more feasible than a space elevator.

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DJO

Re: Nice idea

the rails go all the way around the Moon, it's a very long railgun

An engineering impossibility, nothing could stay on the tracks at speeds far in excess of escape velocity.

Once the projectile is above a critical speed the gun must be straight, any deviation would be catastrophic.

5km is a reasonable maximum length for the final straight part of the gun, getting the projectile up to a speed to cover the roughly 60,000,000 km between Earth & Mars in exactly one year would expose the projectile to an acceleration of about 90G

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Re: Nice idea

Coilgun, rather than a railgun, magnetically hold it to the surface. Main issue is the air resistance on Earth.

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Facepalm

Re: Nice idea

@ DJO "An engineering impossibility, nothing could stay on the tracks at speeds far in excess of escape velocity." Do I have to spell everything out? I forgot to say, it's like a roller coaster, wheels above and below the tracks. Stick the tracks down firmly, maybe use dried Weetabix, something like that.

"any deviation would be catastrophic" No shit, but stuff like that never put off Yuri Gagarin. Poyekhali!

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DJO

Re: Nice idea

like a roller coaster,

ROTFLMAO

A roller coaster may max at 100mph and still they come off from time to time.

Your hypothetical lunar track would need speeds of about 13,000 mph.

The bearings would explode, the tracks would twist.

Given current materials technology there is no way it could possibly work.

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Re: Nice idea

"I reckon it's more feasible than a space elevator."

Space elevators/Fountains/Lofstrom loops, etc are for worlds with atmospheres.

Railguns are the most effective system for an airless world.

Acceleration is only an issue for biologicals, but time to destination is only an issue for (live) biologicals too.

The problem with having one running long distances (over the horizon) is the energy expended in keeping the object being accelerated _on_ the rail in the face of rapidly increasing "centripetal" forces (it's going to go in a straight line) and Heinlein compensated for that in his "Moon" universe by not trying - the railgun tracks were straight and as such got higher from the ground the further from the launch point they got.

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Re: Nice idea

Strangely enough, while a terrestrial space elevator pushes the theoretical limits of material science, a lunar elevator capable of dipping into the Earth's upper atmosphere at lunar perigee, is technically feasible using existing technologies and materials as weak as Kevlar.

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Re: Nice idea

My recollection of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, was that Heinlein did the math "off camera" so to speak. And I just re-did it for my own edification and now yours.

In the book there were two accelerators, The first being the pre-existing 100 km long one, which accelerated its load at 3g over 81 seconds or so, and the second one the rebels built themselves, 30 km long, with an acceleration of 10g for a little under 25 seconds.

Even the latter is squishy compatible for anyone with halfway decent health, but with those parameters, either one only just barely gets its load up to lunar escape velocity with nothing left over for actually going anywhere.

On the other hand, the above figures are for bare minimum launch velocities. The moon is geologically dead enough that ruler straight tunnels, considerably longer are feasible. I figure digging time would be the major limiting factor on achievable length.

4 or 5 km/s of useable delta-V is quite achievable, without seriously bruising any meat bags.

However, such a launch system would be a terrible waste of resources since it could only be used very infrequently when the planets suitably align.

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Better hurry,

If they dont get to Mars quickly the SpaceX giftshop will run out of postcards.

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It's good that people are at least talking seriously about staging. IMHO, until we get serious about staging, going anywhere will remain too costly and difficult to be done usefully.

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It's been 45 years since we bothered to put humans outside the planet's immediate influence. At any point in the intervening time we could have done this. At any point WHILE we were putting people there we could have done this. We didn't. In fact, we didn't do an awful lot, really.

I see no reason to think than in a few years we can turn that around without a serious ramping up of competition/co-operation worldwide, determined to do something practical and useful and with some kind of return. Even SpaceX isn't in the same kinds of order of magnitude (and from what I just Googled it's barely profitable at all, and that was before the latest setbacks and with billions in investment?).

We're not doing it for science. We're not doing it to save humanity. We're not doing it because people want to pay the prices to live up there. We're not doing it to get people to Mars. We're not doing it to get one over the Russians or say we were the first. All of these are reasons (not necessarily good ones) to do such things, but that's not what it appears we are doing it for. As such, it's hard to see WHY we're doing it, and therefore why it would happen.

We've been able to do this since the 1960's. That we haven't says a lot. And the distances and scales involved are literally hilarious. The Moon is 0.1% of the distance away that Mars is, for example. And we're talking about getting ONE thing to just past the Moon as some major project for the next generation...

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Lee D,

Distance isn't all that important - at least when you're talking about the inner solar system. It's just a matter of how much weight of fuel you're willing to boost out of earth's atmosphere - and how much time you're willing to coast during your journey.

Long term presence in space is either going to mean a massively more efficient way of getting to orbit - or mining in space (asteroids or lunar surface I guess). Launching modules/ships isn't so much the problem as constantly launching consumables - but if you're in space and mine water/methane (plus solar power which is free) - then you have breathable air, rocket fuel, drinking water, stuff to grow plants etc.

The big problem is radiation. This is why we haven't ventured out of the Earth's magnetic shield, except for the few Apollo trips to the moon. And they were only gone for a few days at a time. Had a solar flare happened in those brief time periods - they'd have probably got lethal doses - if not immediately fatal.

Short of some miracle invention that gets our arses to Mars in a couple of days - radiation shielding is far more important than drive technology at this point. If there really is easily accessible water at the Moon's south pole, that would also be dead useful, but sadly I'm not sure anyone's seriously looking at that resource at the moment.

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"We've been able to do this since the 1960s"

Nope. We haven't been able to do anything like this since August 1968, when Saturn V production was canceled. We lost any sort of heavy lift that we won't have again until Falcon Heavy flies.

Falcon Heavy will fly because Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. He's the only human being on the planet with a sense of purpose. We'll be doing it because Musk wants to, and he's the only one with the money and the intent.

NASA has not had a purpose since Apollo 17 splashed down. They're a useless bunch of wankers that can't even fight for a budget. They take what Congress dribbles to them and say "thank you sir, may I have another!"

This is just another porkbarrel space study that gets Boeing a drab of money. It means nothing.

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Windows

"The big problem is radiation. This is why we haven't ventured out of the Earth's magnetic shield, except for the few Apollo trips to the moon. "

Just send old people to begin with, they're (we're) going to die soon anyway. I suggest starting with Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner. Wait, what was I saying about dying?

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This isn't staging of materials

The current plan is to build a small core. What we want to do is to test our radiation shielding. We want a, at least partially, manned station so we can test multiple concepts using the same platform. We can do that anywhere outside of the Van Allen belts. It makes sense to put the test station in Lunar orbit because if someone decides to bother landing on the Moon for commercial purposes they now have a potential customer.

If we want to consider exporting anything from the Moon we have to build a colony. We might be able to build a Lunar factory that can fix itself but it will be insanely expensive at this point. It will be far cheaper to just hit something with a spanner, when needed, than to try to make all of the equipment fail-proof. We can build spanner wielding robots that reduce the need for meatsack spanner wielders, just not economically eliminate them completely.

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Anonymous Coward

Sense of purpose

> Falcon Heavy will fly because Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. He's the only human being on the planet with a sense of purpose.

Well, there wasn't much left for the rest of us, once the engineer decided "I'll go to Mars. Why not? All I have to do is build my own rocket and ..."

Puts other people's personal ambitions to scale doesn't it? :-(

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Lunar H20

Blue Origin is looking at landing near the south pole of Luna to get to the water supply.

Russia just announced plans to send manned missions to the moon.

China's space plans include an orbiting station and a permanent base on the moon.

The US's program is all about generating jobs in the districts of senior politicians. Accomplishing anything is not a requirement.

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"Falcon Heavy will fly because Elon Musk wants to go to Mars. He's the only human being on the planet with a sense of purpose. We'll be doing it because Musk wants to, and he's the only one with the money and the intent."

He has a sense of Bravado, not purpose. His money is all on paper so Tesla/Solarcity better not tank or SpaceX is in trouble. SpaceX loaned money it got from The Man® at fantastic interest rates to Tesla. A nice article sometime back provided an interesting look into how all of PT Musk's ventures are financial entangled. If one goes down, the others are likely to be severely impacted. Possibly fatally.

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The Falcon 9 Heavy isn't for Mars travel, it's for heavy geostationary satellites.

The SpaceX ITS is for Mars and hasn't been built yet.

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"Radiation shielding is far more important than drive technology at this point."

Water is one of the best radiation shields there is. One of the "far fetched" but more practical ideas is to hollow out a comet and use that as your ferry. What you take out of the middle can also be your reaction mass.

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"radiation shielding is far more important than drive technology at this point."

Water is one of the best radiation shields that exists - and there happens to be a lot of it in the asteroid belt, not at the bottom of a gravity well.

One of the more "far-fetched" ideas is to hollow out a comet and use that as your interplanetary ferry. What's drilled out can also be your reaction mass.

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Trump Tower 2026

On the moon with a wall!

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Coat

Re: Trump Tower 2026

"On the moon with a wall!"

Wall? Pfft! Dyson shell at least, and it'll be paid for by the moonies lunatics selenites lunarians, goddammit...

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Re: Trump Tower 2026

Not a bad idea... add a few more politicians from other countries and then once they're there, cancel any more moon flights until we need to get rid of the next batch... and there will be a "next batch".

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More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

... see title.

No one has yet explained what a manned mission will be able to do which a robotic mission cannot, except cost a lot more and therefore replenish the gravy train ...

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

I see downvotes, although personally I can't see anything incorrect with your statement.

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Coat

Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"No one has yet explained what a manned mission will be able to do which a robotic mission cannot..."

Get cancer?

Mine's the 10m lead-lined space suit with the one foot plastic backing, thanks.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

No one has yet explained what a manned mission will be able to do which a robotic mission cannot,

If the goal is a permanent foothold in space - i.e., colonization - then robots have yet to equal humanity at making babies. ;)

Manned missions are also currently faster and more adaptable. The years of science from Spirit and Opportunity could've been generated by a human geologist in a few weeks. (The counter point is obvious: you can launch a lot of robots for the price of one human on Mars. You just need lots of patience with the robots.)

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

If the goal is a permanent foothold in space - i.e., colonization - then robots have yet to equal humanity at making babies. ;)

Haven't El Reg recently been advertising a seminar on this very subject?

Humans in space can clean the dust off the solar panels, and change the broken wheels, thus making science experiments work that might otherwise not. Of course they can't hang around as long (but do work quicker) and are much heavier (needing boring stuff like oxygen and food).

Humans can also do things like fixing the Hubble telescope (that robots can't) - and the only commercially viable thing I can currently see working in space is maintenance of our huge fleet of satellites. I'd have thought we're getting to the point where that's technologically and financially feasible, just about. Assuming something lilke the Bigelow habitat can get human-rating.

In general if you're unsure exactly what task you'll be carrying out, then you're likely to need humans to improvise. But robots are always going to be cheaper and safer - and capable of longer endurance.

Another thing you need humans for (sadly) is to get on the news. Robots don't make front page news in the way people do. And as they said in 'The Right Stuff', "it's funding that makes these birds go up. No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

React. Impressive though the various Mars rovers have been, they have very limited range and analysis capabilities. Just look at the distance actually travelled by them on the surface, and how long it's taken them to do that; it's a surprisingly small distance. A human could probably do more in a few days, even on foot. With some kind of transport to take them to interesting-looking sites, much more.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

> If the goal is a permanent foothold in space - i.e., colonization - then robots have yet to equal humanity at making babies. ;)

The important part there is the *if* at the start of your sentence.

Colonization has to have a purpose - typically (1) a need for more space to grow population or (2) acquiring an environment or resource you can't get more cheaply elsewhere, while at the same time needing (3) not getting cooked and DNA scrambled in the attempt.

Inside the solar system, what's the point? Camping half a dozen astronauts on Mars doesn't have such a purpose. No solar body other than Earth really works for (1), and we've yet to find any evidence of a resource which meets criteria (2). Even if you found something dense and expensive, say a ton of pure platinum, it's only worth $24 million at today's prices. If you actually managed to find and haul back 100 tons of it (good luck getting that out of the gravity well), then you've just doubled world production and crashed the price. At best a manned trip to Mars is a very expensive photography trip ...

** About the only possible advantage I can think of for space industrialization is building microgravity manufacturing at scale. In this case Luna makes a lot more sense than Mars as it's lower gravity, and nearer ...

> Manned missions are also currently faster and more adaptable. The years of science from Spirit and Opportunity could've been generated by a human geologist in a few weeks. (The counter point is obvious: you can launch a lot of robots for the price of one human on Mars. You just need lots of patience with the robots.)

I think that's exactly the point though - the economics for manned missions just don't add up, you can launch a hundred complex rover missions for the same price. Plus, at the moment all you're going to get out of a human landing are some nice photos and some geology reports. All of your cost goes on keeping the human alive, not on science ...

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"A human could probably do more in a few days, even on foot."

Not carrying their own air they can't.

The lunar rover didn't go very far either - mainly because if it broke down they had to make sure the passengers could walk back to the lander without dying on the way.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"A human could probably do more in a few days,"

Given the right tools a human geologist could easily do everything Curiosity in a day. Curiosity has been on Mars for 1600+ sols. Assuming we get 66% savings from mass producing Curiosity, it would cost roughly $4.5 trillion to cover the same amount of ground a human can. With no cars all a rover's autopilot has to do is not run into a rock. The drill is far faster and cheaper because changing a broken bit is far simpler. A flat tire can be fixed and a drive motor can be swapped out.

Please don't think I am complaining about what our rovers have accomplished. NASA's budget is less than $20 billion. The choice is one Curiosity each decade or not going at all.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

> No one has yet explained what a manned mission will be able to do which a robotic mission cannot

Spot the difference between isogen74 and Edmund Hillary.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"I think that's exactly the point though - the economics for manned missions just don't add up, you can launch a hundred complex rover missions for the same price. Plus, at the moment all you're going to get out of a human landing are some nice photos and some geology reports. All of your cost goes on keeping the human alive, not on science ..."

You actually just made a very good argument for expanding manned space flight. The costs are similar, and are either going into keeping the robots or the humans alive. I prefer to focus on keeping humans alive.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

The problem with robots is they have to be built for a relatively narrow range of tasks or they become too unwieldy and still don't have as much flexibility as a person. The problem with the MER rover on Mars finding signs of life is that it's a geologist and not a biologist. Same with Curiosity.

Lots of mundane things are better to do with a robot such as making inspections to see how bad a problem is and whether it can wait until lunar morning/evening or when radiation is lower for a human to tend to it. They might also be able to slap a patch on something as a temporary fix until a proper repair can be made. 3M or Henkel need to get to work on a vacuum compatible version of JB Weld and Duct Tape.

Any operations on (in) the moon are going to be very automated. There aren't going to be any minimum wage jobs or intern/grad student openings. The people are going to have to be very capable engineers with excellent fabricobbling skills that can work under massive pressure (or vacuum).

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

> Spot the difference between isogen74 and Edmund Hillary.

Hillary's trips were amazing, sure, but more or less self funded by the organizing committee, donations from suppliers. Getting humans to Mars is likely to cost a significant fraction of a trillion dollars.

You can do a lot of other useful science for half a trillion dollars, much of which is likely to be significantly more useful in the longer term ...

To be very clear, I'm not saying don't explore. I'm just saying understand the opportunity costs involved, rather than just pouring money into ULA.

> Assuming we get 66% savings from mass producing Curiosity, it would cost roughly $4.5 trillion to cover the same amount of ground a human can.

Why is covering ground a useful measure of success? If the ground is the same for miles in all directions (not unlikely given how Earth geology works) then the amount of new knowledge isn't proportional to distance covered. If you're unlucky (e.g. not enough scout rovers sent first, so you're effectively picking landing spots based on educated guesses) then you land in the middle of a region of very similar geology. Ability to carry food, oxygen, and radiation exposure alone says you can't actually go far from home base in terms of time, even if you could theoretically travel the distance.

> The problem with robots is they have to be built for a relatively narrow range of tasks or they become too unwieldy and still don't have as much flexibility as a person.

So build two or three specialized ones for different purposes. You can build 50 and run them for years for the cost of the manned Mars project, and at least you spread your bets.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"Why is covering ground a useful measure of success?"

A human can walk 10km in 2 hours. Add some time to poke around and stick the samples in the automated chemistry lab and everything that Curiosity has done in 5+ years. This tells us how many Curiosities we need to build to get the same amount of work done that a manned mission can. Multiple the cost of Curiosity by the number of rovers needed and we get a sense on the cost for working with robots versus humans. I also divided the price of Curiosities by three to allow for mass production(It would be more but each Curiosity will need extensive testing to make sure it doesn't break. Using more cheaper robots might work, but for high launch costs.

What our geologists are looking for on a manned mission is not completely the same as what we are looking for on a robotic mission. Both are collecting similar science data but the manned mission is also looking for resources, that can be converted to reserves. This means the geologist will start near the colony on day one. When an extractable resource is found other engineers show up to build a processing center. This doesn't necessarily have to be ore, a hillside that is ideal for solar panels could be the primary target for one expansion while a cell tower is the reason for another. If a target area, picked via satellite imaging, is outside of the range of colonial ground transportation a series of staging camps will be used.

You are right that for the price of a manned mission we could build 50 Curiosities. The problem is that to get the same amount of work done, as the manned mission, we need 1600+. At the end of the day we end up spending $4+ trillion on humans or robots. We are only sending robots because the budget isn't $4+ trillion. If NASA's budget was $200 billion we'd be sending people with dumber, repairable robots whenever possible.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"Any operations on (in) the moon are going to be very automated. There aren't going to be any minimum wage jobs or intern/grad student openings. The people are going to have to be very capable engineers with excellent fabricobbling skills that can work under massive pressure (or vacuum)."

Starting out. Some of those engineers will want a pub with a hot bartender. Others will want their own comforts. Given enough time an off-world colony will develop minimum wage jobs. The bartender on Earth will think the Lunar bartender's wage is insane but, once we account for purchasing power the Lunatic barkeep will have similar financial concerns as one on Earth.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

Eventually they WILL need telephone-sanitisers.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"Humans can also do things like fixing the Hubble telescope (that robots can't)"

That's _only_ because things like Hubble weren't designed to be repaired by robots in the first place. It had "interchangeable modules" which were partly ok, but those interchangable modules turned out to have a bunch of fiddly anciliary connectors that could only be accessed and undone by a human(*)(**)

(*) Actually a decent manipulator would have been much better. Human hands are reasonably dextrous but once you're inside a spacesuit and wearing gloves you might as well be trying to do things wielding 2 pairs of 3-foot-long chopsticks.

(**) Not to mention humans working under time pressure, in those claustropobic suits have a tendency to forget to secure things like loose bolts or micrometeorite shields, whilst a robot being driven remotely means that there's a team overseeing everything.

It's quite possible that a suitable robotic manipulator chassis would work better on ISS than humans but a lot of the reason for even having spacewalks is to see how well humans can do things when outside (answer: "not very")

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"You actually just made a very good argument for expanding manned space flight. The costs are similar, and are either going into keeping the robots or the humans alive. I prefer to focus on keeping humans alive."

The rate is about 100 robots per one human. Whilst the robots might be slow, they can collectively do far more than one human.

The bigger problem than all of this is the amount of money _NOT_ being spent. Hollywood spent more on a single movie about space than NASA's entire launch budget for that year. One of my worries about Elon making launches cheaper is that agencies may use this as an excuse to cut back budgets even further - Discounting routine stuff (comms, spy and navigation orbiters) launches are only a minor part (2-3%) of the total cost of a mission, but there are manglement who will see a 2/3 reduction in launch costs as an excuse for a 2/3 total reduction.

We're already in a situation where support grants are routinely paid for the bare salary of 1-2 people and NONE of their equipment or support costs - or where existing long-term projects which were chronically underfunded to start with are now at the point where their storage systems are wearing out and there's no money to pay to keep 5-800TB in a data safe as backup tapes (manglement goes "we need that cupboard space for projects being paid for, dump those tapes") let alone as an online, world-accessable resource.

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Re: More USS Gravy Train than USS Enterprise

"A human can walk 10km in 2 hours."

Not in a pressure suit (s)he can't. Mars atmosphere is so thin it may as well be vacuum. Whilst it's thick enough to protect against micrometeroids, it's no good for radiation shielding when taken in conjunction with the lack of magnetosphere.

For an analogue to the loading of a pressure suit, put on a drysuit, inflate it slightly and try going for a walk. You'll quickly realise that the thing wants to have the arms and legs out straight and anything else takes significant effort. That's about best case scenario. Now realise you're going to have to carry all your life-support kit with you, or push it on a wheeled trolley. Oh and you're wearing thick gloves not only to protect you against the vacuum but also against the biting cold. Dexerity isn't something you have much of. You really don't want to put a hand outside the suit unprotected. You won't die but the odds are pretty good that you'll end up with lots of subdermal bleeding AND a bad case of frostbite (it's happened in NASA environmental chambers).

You might get 1km in 2 hours but unless you brought everything else along with you, you also have to walk back to base - which a robot doesn't need to do even if it takes 2 days to go that far - and bear in mind that the reason they're going so slowly is because they're using solar panels which are pretty feeble on earth for such things, let alone at Mars' distance, or they're using radiothermal decay generators which only output a little more power and have the disadvantage of a very limited lifespan compared to solar panels (which have generally kept going until the device they're on has mechanically broken down)

Humans in space is a nice romantic thing - and a necessary thing to protect the species in the long term against "rocks from the sky" as well as our own reckless ongoing experiment with the Earth's oxygen supply, but trying to justify putting people on mars over robots as an efficiency thing is a non-starter. About the only advantage of humans is that they're adaptable and expendable, but the reality is that they're fragile and costs of keeping them alive massively outweighs the convenience of that adaptability.

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