back to article So we're going back to the Moon: NASA triggers countdown by firing up spacecraft production

Texas Senator Ted Cruz hailed "a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Center" as NASA awarded the contract for building Orion spacecraft to Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado. For the doubters, this is it: the production line has been set in motion for the first mission to put astronauts on the Moon since …

  1. Qarumba
    Happy

    At Last!

    Another giant leap for mankind. Last I heard I'd be living on the moon, now I guess I'll just have to be happy to retire to the moon.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Go

      Re: At Last!

      There must be a strong case for using recently retired folk for space exploration - no need to worry about getting them home again and they'll be happy in the knowledge that their names will live on.

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: At Last!

        I volunteer! With a bit of luck, on the moon, I won't hear the word "Brexit"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At Last!

          No but how long until you hear 'Mexit'!

          1. RyokuMas Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: At Last!

            Doesn't that involve a wall?

            ...

            ...

            I'll get me coat.

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: At Last!

              Doesn't that involve a wall?

              There will be a contract amendment coming out for that... just need to figure out which agency the money will be stolen from.

          2. Sudosu

            Re: At Last!

            Arthur C Clarke documented it back in 55' and it entailed some limited violence before things were settled as I recall...

            https://www.amazon.com/Earthlight-Arthur-C-Clarke-Collection-ebook/dp/B07H16PYXV

          3. Long John Brass Silver badge
            Alien

            Re: At Last!

            I hear the moon is a harsh mistress. Does that mean a return of the moderatrix?

            /Dangit; Just noticed someone beat me to the punchline :(

        2. TheKnowAlotGuy

          Re: At Last!

          Im sure that there will be a strong case for a vote on the moon, but not including expats, about a lunar exit LUXIT, to free the moon from the undemocratic tether of the earth.

          1. OssianScotland Silver badge

            Re: At Last!

            Damn you, Sir Isaac...

          2. AMBxx Silver badge

            Re: At Last!

            No taxation without representation. Where will they get the tea?

          3. StudeJeff

            Re: At Last!

            "Luna shall be free!"

    2. Keith Oborn

      Re: At Last!

      Bob Heinlein got there before you all on the politics: "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress".

  2. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Devil

    Party-Pooper

    I hate to be the devils advocate, but I don't think we should go to any other world until we can prove we can take care of the one we have first.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Party-Pooper

      That soundbite never gets old, but it doesn't really make sense. If you ranked all activities of mankind by how helpful they are towards the long-term sustainability of humanity, scientific research would be pretty close to the top.

      Sure, there are several other things that would be more helpful than space exploration, but why would you choose to single out space exploration instead of, I dunno, bad TV? That consumes a lot more resources and is a lot less useful. Financial markets? War?

      I don't know, but my gut feeling is that the "other world"/"this world" thing is just a meme that sounds clever, and isn't backed by much more real reasoning than that.

      1. Citizens untied

        Re: Party-Pooper

        Space exploration, unlike most other activities on the planet surface, actually forces us, or at least the engineers, etc to think about resource constraints and habitat in pretty much the exact opposite way they are in almost everything else.

        We should be treating the planet like a spaceship we must reuse for, basically, ever.

        Space exploration is healthy activity for humanity.

        Warring over plots of ground with oil under them is not.(This list could be much, much longer, but I have an actual job)

      2. David Nash Silver badge

        Re: Party-Pooper

        The Earth can take care of itself really, what we're really messing up is the atmosphere that supports human and other life. If we kill ourselves, the Earth won't really care, it will carry on regardless.

        The moon doesn't really have anything to take care of in those terms.

      3. Public Citizen
        Go

        Re: Party-Pooper

        Substitute "New World" for "Other World" and you have your template.

        We have better Navigation Tools, better materials, and an experience base to draw on that the early explorers of the New World could not even conceive of. And that experience base includes what those early explorers recounted on their return to Europe.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Party-Pooper

      Sooner or later, next Wednesday or in a few thousand years time, there's a good chance of a sodding big space rock hitting the Earth.

      Whilst we haven't yet worked out how to deflect such a rock, it will definitely depend upon our ability to get hardware into orbit.

      1. Public Citizen
        Coat

        Re: Party-Pooper

        "Sooner or later, next Wednesday or in a few thousand years time, there's a good chance of a sodding big space rock hitting the Earth."

        Again.

        FTFY

  3. Dr. G. Freeman

    If they need any test subjects for extraterrestrial living, I'm in.

    Don't want to live on this planet anymore, the natives are annoying me.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      But think how much worse it could be - close confinement with other equally anti-social people.

      Paris because maybe she'd keep you company?

  4. Persona Bronze badge

    Pointy bit

    As far as I can see this only covers 6-12 of the pointy bits that sit on the top of a very tall rocket. Currently they are only actively building two of those rockets......

    1. Alan_Peery

      Re: Pointy bit

      Yes, it's missing the rocket as a whole, and the bit just below the capsule that corresponds to the Service Module from the Apollo days.

      So it's a very incomplete purchase.

  5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    That was close

    They got the money spent on a preferred contractor before the Spacex update on Starship on the 28th.

  6. Pete 2

    Star Wars numbering?

    > NASA's initial OPOC order, costing $2.7bn, is for three Orions as soon as possible to cover Artemis missions III, IV and V. The next three will be ordered in 2022 for Artemis missions VI, VII and VIII at a projected cost of $1.9bn.

    So shouldn't the first of these be Artemis IV (a new hope), then V and VI

    It is noted that these capsules will have a much shorter life (though probably just as infrequent a roll-out) as the films did.

  7. macjules Silver badge

    That Trump fellow's not so bad after all

    Depends upon how you define 'bad' I suppose.

    1. Red Ted
      FAIL

      Re: That Trump fellow's not so bad after all

      ‘Bad’ as in ‘about to be subject to an impeachment investigation’?

  8. NonyaDB

    What do you mean "we", British Subject?

    AMERICA is going back to the moon. You can't even get out of the EU.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      AMERICA is going back to the moon

      What, all of it? Wow, these new SLS rockets must be more powerfull than I thought. Careful you don't take any bits of Canada or Mexico with you.

      Oh, and you can leave Florida behind if you like, some bits of that are quite nice...

      1. baud Bronze badge

        Since they're likely to launch their rockets from Florida, I'd wager it would be the first bit to go.

        1. Oengus Silver badge

          If the launch goes badly Florida (or part of it at least) will be the first bit to go...

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "What, all of it? Wow, these new SLS rockets must be more powerfull than I thought. Careful you don't take any bits of Canada or Mexico with you."

        Did someone invent the Spindizzy and not tell us?

    2. baud Bronze badge

      I think the we in the title is NASA.

    3. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: What do you mean "we", British Subject?

      Apologies, I was taking Neil Armstrong at his word when he said "mankind". I guess this is an unfashionable viewpoint now.

      1. John 104

        Re: What do you mean "we", British Subject?

        Well, to be fair, it was the 60s and only America mattered back then. (you know, the rest of North and South America really didn't count).

    4. John 104

      What do you mean "we", British Subject?

      AMERICA is going back to the moon. You can't even get out of the EU.

      -Brutal

    5. cookieMonster

      Sir, I salute you. That was wicked.

    6. StudeJeff

      We as in humanity

      We are going back to the Moon. Yes, it's the US doing it (again), but it's also mankind.

      "We come in peace for all mankind."

  9. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    How long before Trump declares a trade war on the Moon?

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Given Trump's general scientific knowledge I reckon it would not take much to make this about cheese..

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Coat

        it would not take much to make this about cheese..

        That would be a real clanger

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        He'll probably blame it on "cheese eating surrender monkeys" and get confused over who or what he is talking about. I mean, this is the teetotaller who categorically stated that American wine is better than French wine. Maybe it's the pretty labels?

  10. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    NASA proposes; reality disposes

    "No other spacecraft in the world can keep humans alive hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth for weeks at a time with the safety features, crew accommodations, technical innovations, and reliability that Orion provides"

    Reading this, you'd think they'd achieved it already. Shuttle reliability was claimed to be one loss in about 100,000 missions. Reality was unimpressed. "Technical innovations" and reliability rarely go together.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: NASA proposes; reality disposes

      The Shuttle did prove the possibility of building a re-usable spacecraft with the capability of carting several astros and a fair chunk of cargo into space. That makes it a worthwhile machine to have built and flown, even if the cost, time and manpower needed to prepare it for the next launch all blew past project estimates as if they weren't there.

      The fact that the ejection system was taken out after its first launch and that it wasn't as safe as advertised are more a criticism of the prevailing attitudes in NASA and time constraints imposed on the STS project than of the Shuttle itself. Don't forget that NASA had prior form here: think Apollo 1 and the wisdom of running launch practises with 15psi of pure oxygen in a vehicle containing materials that were not certified fire safe in 100% oxygen, had no fire extinguishers installed and was fitted with an escape hatch that needed 3 minutes to open.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: NASA proposes; reality disposes

      So it's a glorified Apollo judging from the shape and size. Who would want to be in that for weeks at a time?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NASA proposes; reality disposes

      "Shuttle reliability was claimed to be one loss in about 100,000 missions."

      Yes, by a manager. I read Feynman's book in which that claim was mentioned - the engineers he questioned at the same time reckoned failure rate was likely to be about 1 in 100 missions.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NASA proposes; reality disposes

      ' "Technical innovations" and reliability rarely go together.'

      Hmm. The sort of technical innovations that get trumpeted loudly by those seeking profit or prestige often don't.

      But it was technical innovations, lots of them, which took us from the motor cars of 100 years ago which would break valve springs, burn out exhaust valves, wear their ignition points (assuming they weren't relying on magnetos), clog up their spark plugs, etc., and generally break down every month without near constant TLC; to the motor cars of today which have engines that usually run for years without much more than the occasional oil change and tappet adjustment. Carburettor adjustment? No thanks, it's the 21st century and I've got fuel injection.

      (I once had a motorbike with a dynamo. It kept losing generating power because the dynamo brush spring clips kept popping off. Easily fixed since they were caught inside an engine side cover which could be removed using the ignition key as a screwdriver - yes, really - but what a pain. And that bike wasn't ancient: it was a 1970s design. Technical innovations mean that sort of problem is extinct in modern vehicles.)

      The same applies to aircraft and pretty much everything else - think about the reliability of modern computers compared to those of the 1950s, for example.

      (Mind you, modern clothes tend not to last as well as clothes generally did in the 1950s. On the other hand, they're a lot cheaper now.)

  11. ExampleOne

    NASA has committed to achieve this within the next five years with its Artemis mission project.

    Until the next administration cancels the entire thing in favor of spending the money on (polar bears / wars over oil / delete as appropriate).

  12. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Alien

    Lyrics heard at Bluedot festival

    We demand, That the weapons of War, Are manufactured no more, Demilitarise. We demand, That to have in its place, a means to unite, And colonise Space

    Admittedly it was a mental band called Henge...

    12 hours later I was listening to moon landing full, unedited transmissions. I wonder if there are still those with the mental fortitude for it for when things went as sideways as is did and still pull off the landing.

  13. sbt Silver badge
    Boffin

    Following in the footsteps of giants.

    Given the advances in AI and robotics expected in the next 20 years, we could get a presence on Mars much faster if we stopped focusing on trying to fly delicate and precious meatbags off world.

    1. Long John Brass Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Following in the footsteps of giants.

      But we already have quite a few machines on Mars; Meat bag is the natural next step :)

      1. sbt Silver badge
        Alien

        They've literally barely scratched the surface

        Remarkable though they have been (particularly Spirit and Opportunity) the martian rovers have understandably been pretty constrained in terms of goals and areas covered. I'm arguing the next natural steps are more and better robots/rovers that can focus more on the exploration science over more of the surface (and below), and not so much on safety and survival.

        If the focus shifts to human exploration, that will have a huge influence over the shape and rate of expansion of the science envelope.

        1. StudeJeff

          To boldly go

          Robots are important and useful, but there is nothing like having real live people there. A big part of this is letting people seeing real live human beings walking on another world, and eventually getting a lot of people out there.

    2. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

      Re: Following in the footsteps of giants.

      @sbt: if we stopped focusing on trying to fly delicate and precious meatbags off world

      That is what scientists and engineers advocated the first time around as well. The savings would be massive if only we didn't have to keep the crew alive, they argued. What they did not realize as well as the politicians, however, that the costs would still be... well... astronomical, and that it would be much easier and faster to convince the public's representatives (and excite the public opinion, which is what said representatives sometimes pay attention to) to allocate a much larger budget to "put brave American boys on the Moon" rather than much smaller sums to "foster scientific exploration of the Solar System" or something equally boring for John Q. Public.

      It was, first and foremost, a practical consideration of expediency by people who understood how strings had to be pulled. The overall result was scientific exploration and technological advances, anyway. Propaganda was not ignored, and distribution of pork to constituencies played a role. But as far as advancing science and technology goes it was not a stupid move at all.

      Further IT prospective: marketing has its place.

      1. sbt Silver badge

        The PR value of brave American boys

        The politics were about not losing to the USSR again. If what you claim is true, I don't see how all the very expensive unmanned exploration (before or since 1972) would have been funded such as the Voyager program, Curiosity, or Hubble. There was still plenty of pork.

  14. skeptical i

    Lockheed Martin?

    They make the F-35, right? Should we be concerned?

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Lockheed Martin?

      Well, it's a Cost Plus contract, so there's absolutely no incentive for them to deliver anything on time, on budget, or even at all, they'll still get paid in any event.

      But hey, their projected price is only twice what an Apollo capsule cost (adjusted), and Orion will be capable of carrying three astronauts around the moon, which is, erm, oh, exactly the same...

      The contract for the lunar lander (probably a more complex design, and given that Orion has been in development since 2004, certainly more time constrained), is not going to be Cost Plus.

  15. Timbo

    Strange way of doing things...

    Unless I'm mistaken, hasn't NASA learnt anything from the history of the Apollo and Shuttle projects.

    If we want humans to go to the moon on a number of missions, why do we need such a huge rocket (aka SLS) that needs lots of propellant to transport 3-4 astronauts, and massive payloads (such as a lunar rover) each and every time?

    One could easily (and more cheaply) build just one or two lunar rovers, and have them sent direct to the proposed landing site, ahead of the humans arriving. They could then sit their having their batteries charged via solar panels and once the humans have left, the rover drives itself to the next landing site.

    What they should be designing and building are earth-orbiting and moon-orbiting "docking stations" allowing smaller rockets to be used to carry humans and/or payloads into space...then use a "transiting" vehicle that only moves from earth to moon and back again to carry the humans, while the individual payloads get sent to the moon directly where they auto-dock with the proposed "Gateway" and await their crews.

    Arthur C Clarke got it so right with 2001: A Space Odyssey - released in 1968 - even Star Trek were something similar to this in their movies...

    1. Evil_Tom

      Re: Strange way of doing things...

      Isn't leaving the Earth the hardest part, and so requires a sizeable rocket anyway, regardless of what you're shipping up there.

      Once you're in space itself, the forces (and therefore rocket size) is less massive, but you still need to get all that stuff up there. Is it more efficient with splitting payloads in 10 but also using 10 rockets, or just one big one (numbers plucked from nothing)?

      I understand there's a point where you want to carry X tonnes, but you need a bigger rocket with more fuel, but in turn that bigger rocket also requires more fuel.

      Is there an optimum size of payload and rocket to use based?

  16. sawatts

    cost plus contract

    Every bug you can get past acceptance is future revenue.

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