For Phyl: Where Would I Send NASA?

>> Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Phyl asked: If you could decide the direction NASA would take for the next two decades (manned space exploration, going to Mars, concentrating on the space station, doing stuff on the Moon, or something completely different) -- what direction do you think would be best?

It's an interesting question.

First, let's assume that I have complete control over NASA (with ~the same budget as has been proposed) - me and me alone. What would I want to do? I'd want to work towards and effective self-sustaining colony on the moon. Why?

Because it's a vital stepping stone on the way way out there. Before I commit any spacecraft to Mars, I'm going to want to know those spacecraft and landers work, they can land and take off again, that the suits will be effective handling rocks and withstanding dust. I'm going to want to know that I can protect my crew from radiation for long periods of time, that I can extract some of what I need from the soil. I'm going to practice growing things and farming and manufacturing, basically being self-sufficient.

On the moon, everything I need to do is applicable to Mars, only the extremes are more extreme, the dust is sharper, the atmosphere is even less atmospheric. Yet, the moon has the invaluable advantage of being close at hand, relatively speaking. We can test all kinds of technologies and capabilities where rescue is days, not weeks, away, and upmass is just horrifically expensive rather than all but impossible. If we can tame the moon, make it a real colony, we'll know we can tame anything.

However, where we go isn't as important as figuring out the best way to get there. We need to decide what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, and then build the tools we need to get there. Optimize instead of make do or force fit.

Note also that this isn't choosing human spaceflight over unmanned. To me, they are a package deal. You need 'em both.

Now, if I was just a ridiculously rich and decided to go commercial, I would do things differently.

But, then, you didn't ask that.

BTW: This looks like a very interesting book for the space nostalgic.


  • Jeff King

    Great ideas... you have my vote, to bad it doesn't mean anything.

  • Phyl

    This is great, Stephanie!

    I've seen some documentaries about the various robotic projects on Mars, and the comment always seems to be that doing everything with robots rather than sending humans is more efficient and cost effective because you can concentrate on the machinery and not waste so much time and room having to accommodate humans -- who can't do nearly as many science experiments as the robots.

    So I wondered if, with limited budgets etc, there was ever likely to be human space travel again, beyond the space station.

    I've always thought it made the most sense to set up a moon colony first, too. For one thing, if some kind of manufacture could eventually be done there, with materials gathered on the moon), rather than having to lift everything up from earth, I thought it might make it easier to head farther out into space. I don't know if that's really possible, since I don't know what materials on the moon could be used. But it just seemed to me that it might make things easier.

    What do you think of that "elevator" idea of getting off the earth? (Should that be a separate question for another blog post? Ha!)

    By the way, thanks for the link to that book. I *really* want to read that!

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