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March 14, 2007

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» An honest assessment from Piles Of Rock
I was really impressed by this honest assessment of the future of the space program by the NASA Adminstrator Mike Griffin. He sticks his foot in his mouth a lot, but I empathize with people that lack tact (being one... [Read More]

» Is Martian life on ice? from Cosmic Log
Scientists have long known that Mars' polar regions contain huge reservoirs offrozen water, but today's findings on the depth and purity of that ice have raised the regions' pro... [Read More]

» Is Martian life on ice? from Cosmic Log
Scientists have long known that Mars' polar regions contain huge reservoirs offrozen water, but today's findings on the depth and purity of that ice have raised the regions' pro... [Read More]

» Is Martian life on ice? from Cosmic Log
[Read More]

» Is Martian life on ice? from Cosmic Log
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» Is Martian life on ice? from Cosmic Log
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Comments

Lakshmi Kantha

Mr. Griffin's article is to be commended for not only what it says about the future of human space exploration, but also for what it implies about the squandered past. His article is confirmation finally that the Space Shuttle program has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the Human Space Exploration activities of this country over the past 3 decades. The consequence is that most people of my generation may not live long enough to witness a human set foot on Mars. What a pity! I suppose there is a lesson somewhere here for both nations and individuals.

gigigavi

Orio and Ares are a duplication , fifty years later of Apollo and saturn and they will produce the same outcome. A few flights, end of money and another fifty years stop of space development.
The reason?
Very simple , they represent a wrong strategy in space planning.
They are earth-based, meaning we are at the bottom of a gravity well and every pound out of here is extremely costly and limited to really allow space to be developed by private enterprise like the american frontier. We must change completely our approach by turning to a space based space program and capability, utilizing resources already in space and from there develop the Moon or mars capability.
Asteroid deflection technology, exostructures built in space, mineral transformation capability with nanotech, robotics development, those are the technologies to develop and build a space based approach .
Such approach can save 90% of future costs and 70% of time in our next missions to the Moon nad mars and at the same time assure the creation of an affordable space transportation and infrastrucural system.

David Moon

Griffin should admit we never went to the moon and it was fake. At least there are better studios to film it this time.

Anonymous Space Lurker

What Mike needs to understand is that he in his position at NASA is setting the pace, the cost, and the direction of NASA's exploration plans for the next 30 years just as surely as James Fletcher did in 1970 with the Shuttle.

With that, Mike is putting into place a plan that is extremely similar to the one that he put in place in 1992 as the head of exploration at the time and the great fear is that the results will be the same, when in 2008 if the presidency changes hands, there will be other priorities, much like in 1993.

If Mike is able to get enough contracts going to set in stone the direction of Ares 1/Orion, NASA will be saddled with yet another expensive manned spaceflight system that will consume a vast proportion of the resources of the agency. Saying that the Ares V only costs $750 per human mission is just as disingenous as saying that the marginal cost of a Shuttle mission was only $100 million dollars. Mike you know that this is a dodge and yet you continue forward with it.

Mars? Forget Mars, we will never go to the Moon with this direction and fixed cost structure. Already your internal teams at the centers are cutting back on the capabilities of the lunar outpost and have eliminated your cargo missions that were in the ESAS report. We are rapidlly headed toward the failed First Lunar Outpost design which is not much more than what ISS is today, a base without the funds to use it, a base with no purpose, no money, and no future. I guess we can continue on to Mars from that auspicious start.

You won't listen to this reply, you have thrown people out of your office for telling you this so there is little chance that you will listen to an anonymous (but informed on what is going on) reply. That the reply is anonymous is merely symptomatic of the fear that any voice other than your own is persecuted and run out of the agency.

The only ray of light is that you will be gone in a couple of years and since the Ares V won't be under development then, maybe a rational program to get us back to the Moon can be constructed that is cost effective as well as capable.

In 2004 the president of the United States announced the Vision for Space Exploration. In the time since then you have managed to remove the vision from the VSE. Space is to important to our future to end up with that fate.

anonymous

"Stability of purpose, a result of agreement upon priorities, is as important as funding stability."

Why ignore the past 50 years of U.S. civil space history and defy the nature of democracy? Why project level funding 50 years into the future and use that as a basis for planning? Why insist on revisiting and reliving the same failed Apollo and SEI technical and political strategies? Why give up a narrow political window to get actual human space exploration hardware underway before 2008? For the sake of reinventing the EELV wheel? Why not learn from the unstable past and develop a human space exploration plan that is flexible and sustainable over multiple elections?

Pathetic...

Robert G. Oler

This article is a hoot.

sort of paraphrasing "Cant predict the next fifty years, but gee the last 30 sure look pretty constant and if we go back to the Moon the next 20 will look about the same way."

30 plus 20 equals 50.

50 years after Orville and Wilbur was 1953. Human spaceflight on a zillion more dollars spent by the federal government has made about 1/20th the progress aviation made.

why? The Agency Mike heads.

Robert G. Oler

Anon

Robert Oler Is a known moron and liar. Ignore anything he posts.

Tom Kat

Mr. Oler claims that he is a F-14 pilot and that his wife also flies the same jet. Liar liar pants on fire.

MarkWhittington

The development of commercial space, which is bound to go into unpredictable directions, is the wild card of any attempt to forecast the "next fifty years" in space.

cIclops

Mike Griffin has given a detailed account of where NASA came from and clearly describes the path on which he has firmly set NASA. Setting foot on Mars in 2037 is disappointingly late, yet the key point is that it can be done within highly conservative assumptions. This is a great baseline from which rational discussion can begin; now all we have to do is work to make that date sooner, later won't matter to most of us :)

Glen Gates

Micro-Gravity Flight Operations Using Parabolic Aircraft

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin states “once commercial technologies are developed, NASA will stand down”.

Dr. Peter Diamandis, CEO ZERO-Gravity Corporation and operator of G-Force One, the first commercial parabolic aircraft is a visionary with dreams of spaceflight he turns into reality. His powers of persuasion and ability to generate investors are second to none. Few men are his equal at understanding, promoting and delivering real results in the personal spaceflight industry. The reality however is that dreams do not always make good business sense and as Diamandis readily admits, ZERO-G generates costs at twice the rate it generates revenue. Thankfully, ZERO-G investors are tolerant believers and continue to fund the company.

Financially speaking, based on the costs of operation (before the additional $10 million investment when flight costs were not fixed but incremental), the company would have to fly over fifty trips a year to break even. With new fixed costs to cover a dedicated airplane, as opposed to an "only pay for it when you use it airplane", the break even number of flights per year triples with seat prices at the $3000 level. This means ZERO-G must fly 150 flights a year, a far cry from the 27 flights it flew in 2005.

What ZERO-G needs is a contract from NASA to fly two flights a week training astronauts and conducting micro-gravity experiments to qualify hardware for on-orbit flight operations. The switch to ZERO-G can be justified by transferring the existing NASA micro-gravity budget and flights operated by NASA DC-9 aircraft to commercially proven ZERO-G aircraft.

The $2.5 million revenue generated by transferring NASA funds to ZERO-G will give a life sustaining boost to commercial parabolic flight operations much like the U.S. Postal Service did for the fledgling airline business in the 1920's by offering airmail contracts when passengers were scarce.

Let's all hope Michael Griffin at NASA supports the transfer of NASA funds for micro-gravity flight operations technology to ZERO Gravity Corporation, a proven commercial provider as is mandated by Congress.

It is the right thing to do.

Gary Samano

In hindsight it appears that the space shuttle program was a gravy train for contractors, which delayed the next phase of space exploration and cost fourteen lives.

davids

The biggest mistake Nasa ever made was scraping the Saturn five for the shuttle. remember sky lab? How big it was? Now imagin 5 or six sky labs being launched and linked together. we could have had a bigger and better space atation in one year...six launches. Low earth orbit? The staurn fives second stage alone could do that[ remember the link up with the russians or the trips to sky lab? The Saturn five was the one launch system that never had a faliure even in testing. Mass production would have driven down the cost of space launches. Instead our so called space truck [shuttle] has to be rebuilt after every space shot. No imagine a Mars ship made up of modules the size of sky lab. Link 8 together and another two filled with fuel and we might have been standing on Mars ten years ago. Just because it's old doesn't mean it has no use. Rember the DC3 still flying still working after 70 years. Or the B-52 that will still be flying when it is 100 years old! Perhaps Nasa should just dig out The Saturn Fives blue prints? Or is the rumor they were all destroyed in order to getr the shuttle thru congress true?

Jeff Findley

At least Griffin admits that the shuttle was an economic failure. It's costs are far too high. Unfortunately, I feel that Griffin is marching down a similar path with Ares I, Ares V, and Orion. I just don't see how these combined programs will result in needing fewer people than the shuttle program currently requires.

Greg Zsidisin

To answer the "Saturn V blueprint" question: we have enough info to generally build them, but have basically lost all the "redlines" (final changes) that made it work. That, with the costs and delays of reestablishing and certifying new development, testing and manufacturing, makes recreating Saturn problematic.

I tend to agree with the approach of adapting the Shuttle stuff we have, but I think we've lost the advantage of doing that by using such highly modified components and configurations as we're now doing. See http://www.directlauncher.com/ and http://www.teamvisioninc.com/services-consulting-space-exploration-optimization.htm .

Robert G. Oler

Glen Gates | March 15, 2007 at 09:40 AM

The fact that Griffin more or less wont do what you suggest speaks volumes of his dedication to commercial space.

IE it is non existant.

Robert

Dennis Ray Wingo

There was a variant of the Shuttle derived system presented by former Lockheed Martin and Saturn development team veteran David Christensen.

This system was truly shuttle derived and would have had a clear path with great commonality between the systems all the way from ISS crew rotation to the Mars launcher.

The folks at headquarters and MSFC never let the design make it to Mike's desk.

John M Wilkes

I do not think that looking to the Apollo Era is the right historical analogy. We are about where Portugal and China were in the early 15th century regarding Ocean travel. However, it is Spain that developed the New World and did so with riches derived from the new regions themselves. The Netherlands, France and England enter the competition to cut into the new stream of wealth that is changing the balance of power in Europe. International competition in Europe drives that relatively backward region to Modernize before the rest of the World. thus, a whole new situation at the Global level emerges in terms of the balance of wealth and power. China was the technology leader and could have done it first, but did not, thus history as we know it.

So, I ask Michael Griffith why he cannot envision a growing and expansive space program that pays for itself, at least for the R and D to develop new technology? I see a new space race involving the Moon that includes a series of true space transportation breakthroughs.

Don't ask what it will cost to get to the Moon or Mars as an end in itself? Ask what we will be doing on the Moon and how the balance of payments will work out. What wealth will be generated, by and for whom as we increase payload capacity and efficiency? What were the competitive economics that produced the Clipper ship, and then took us to the steamship era? Why don't we use nuclear power for commercial shipping even today, long after the Navy has mastered that technology?

I think that the Moon will become important 40-50 years after the Earth masters fusion energy, there is no more oil to burn for energy production and coal is being phased out due to environmental concerns. Then we will want to be able to mix Deuterium from the oceans of Earth with the Helium-3 that the solar wind deposits on the Moon to produce the ideal Fusion Reactor fuel mix. When the Moon is akin to the Persian Gulf of today in the energy economy - when riches beckon those who would develop and settle the Moon- then one will see the kind of effort that goes into transporting coal and oil today pouring into space travel.
The 50 year projection offered to us by NASA today will look timid indeed at that point, but how about the interim?

NASA's job should be to identify and remove the bottlenecks in the development of space technology of today and set the stage to move to the next generation of capabilities. I think in the chemical rocket era, the bottleneck is the cost of getting supplies of LOX to LEO to refuel Chemical rockets. As long as it takes 90% of your fuel to get to LEO, you can't do much when you have arrived. Add refueling capability in LEO and everything else gets easier. LOX is key since it is 80% of the burden of rocket fuel by weight. It cuts into payload capacity to carry more than is needed to reach orbit and SSTO is not a reasonable goal until one has an in space refueling capability.

The Moon has a much less daunting gravity well than the Earth. At one sixth the gravity of Earth. lifting LOX off the Lunar surface and delivering it to Earth LEO makes sense. The Moon is actually oxygen rich, with lots of oxide ores. What it lacks is hydrogen to turn that resource into water and a readily available power source to enable one to extract oxygen from the rocks. These are tough by manageable problems-worthy challenges. However, success would be richly rewarded.

What will drive the development of the Moon prior to fusion reactors on Earth needing Helium-3 will be the demand for oxygen in LEO. This will be "paid for" in a gas trade of hydrogen from Earth for Moon oxygen, a gas trade system.

With chemical rocket fuel, water production and oxygen production infrastructure in place, then Space Tourism to orbiting hotels and underground hotels on the Moon become acheivable economic challenges.

How do you build a massive space structure? Not bit by bit with a lot of spacewalks, the way NASA built ISS. You do it by sending up sections that are complete and usable on arrival, like Skylab, but can be linked together. Where do you build this structure? Not on Earth, or in LEO. You build it where you have some gravity to hold tools in place and can create a good working environment without space suits but can keep workers protected from cosmic radiation. In the end, one wants to be able to lift sections 5 or 6 times the size of what you can lift from Earth in a single shot as a unit to orbit, and then take it to Earth LEO or GTO.

In short, you need a workshop at about 1/6th the gravity of Earth, with lots of metallic and silicate raw materials locally available. Such a site is to be found on the Moon. Space hotel sized space stations will be assembled in underground lunar chambers in 1/6th G by workers six times as strong as they would be on Earth.

Actually only about a third of the workforce will be on the Moon. Most of it will still be on Earth operating levers and joysticks that manipulate robotic arms and remotely operated production tools of various types. At the speed of light the command to do something will get to the Moon in under 2 seconds and the Earth based worker will be able to see what happened in about 3 seconds. That is an acceptable response lag for a worker trained to be used to it.

Earth and the Moon could be complementary bases for the development of a space faring organization that is willing to reinvest the profits of space based economic activity into the development of new capability and pay its own way to greatness.

Begging for investment funds from a national government with changing priorities is not the way to sustainable growth of a
pioneering organization with a vision to acheive. You must generate investment capital yourself by serving client agencies and paying customers. Then you invest in your vision while seizing opportunities as they arise. An entreprenurial spirit is what is needed.

Government funding will periodically offer one time investment funds to achieve particular ends, or capabilities, and that is a special opportunity. However, a government is unlikely to commit to 30 years of level funding, come what may, come what might-for good and obvious reasons.

Tony Rusi

In 1956 Robert W. Bussard designed and tested a nuclear fission thermal rocket. In 1972 the government finally stopped the program. This same American genius now claims to have all the science done for practical fusion power and as well as fusion rockets. Bussard claims that the fusion rocket will take 15 years and cost 7 billion dollars. But that is nothing compared to the 5 trillion dollar world energy production market. Bussard estimates that licensing fees alone for his fusion power generation retrofit device will be on the order of 200 billion per year. Developing the fusion rocket is what NASA should be doing now, then in twenty years, we might actually have it.

Gaetano Marano - Italy

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this is my first comment on this very intesting blog and, first of all, I wish to suggest a few changes to the blog's layout

the text on both sides is too little and difficult to read with common screens/LCD resolutions

a bigger font-size with less large columns may be better

the space saved resizing the sides' columns should be used for a larger central text to avoid a very long scroll with large posts like the Griffin's article

the central text's font is good and readable but a further step in the font-size may be better (especially for frequent readers)

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Gaetano Marano - Italy

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I think that ALL predictions of the future (in space and on earth) from space agencies' chiefs, futurologists and sci-fi writers lacks a VERY IMPORTANT (and completely unknown) parameter (on the to of hundreds other unknown variables) that is the (real) evolution of the ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE in the next 20+ years

so far, also the best researches have completely missed the promise of "smart computers" and "human-like androids" and similar goals appear very away to be real, but... (probably) the computing power is already (or pretty close to be) sufficient to build an "artificial brain" and the human-brain-like software may be written in a few years when we will know everything about how the human mind works (that may happen soon)

it's clear that, launch a "smart" Mars probe able to "think" and "take decisions" is VERY MUCH different (and better) that send on Mars (and beyond) some "advanced-radio-control-toys" like the excellent (but stupid) Spirit and Opportunity that need a month of study to send the right data to (safely) move them of a few meters!

then, the mother of all questions is: "how much smart will be the smartest computers/robots available in the next 20, 30, 50 years?"

we can't have that answer to-day ...but (I feel) we will have it soon... maybe, many years BEFORE the first manned Mars mission will start to be planned... :)

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Gaetano Marano - Italy

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Greg,

I agree 200% about the use of ready available, cheap and man-rated (TRUE) Shuttle-derived hardware to save LOTS of billion$$$ and (at least) 3-5 years over the current ESAS plan

however, about the (well advertised, but recent) Direct launcher and TeamVision plan, I suggest you to read this Universe Today Forums' thread:

http://www.bautforum.com/showthread.php?t=51646

and this post:

http://www.bautforum.com/showpost.php?p=937768&postcount=522

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Screech

The fear that I have is that as the administration changes in 2008, the goals will change as well. I fear that it will be more popular to cut the NASA budget instead of allowing the allocation of freed up funds.

"The shuttle program was born in 1968 as a design concept. In 1969, Richard Nixon formed a task force to look at the proposal seriously. The shuttle program was supposed to reduce launch costs from $1000 a pound (1968 dollars) using the Saturn V launch system to $50 a pound ($684.36 in 2005 dollars). Of course, after everything is said and done, the shuttle currently costs about $1461.17 (using 1968 dollars) a pound. Yet the shuttle program gave NASA (and, by extension, the world) a vehicle with which to learn about space construction and also gain much experience in building things that are fully upgradeable." (http://spacebull.com/index.php?blog=1&cat=18&page=1&paged=2 Article entitled, "Space Shuttle and Criticism of the Space Shuttle Program")

I do feel that, despite all this, the shuttle should have been shelved until technology improved. My understanding is, however, that Apollo was abandonded more for safety reasons (Apollo I and Apollo XIII) than anything else. Therefore, I can understand why NASA would have taken the shuttle route. A different spacecraft would help distance the agency from the mission deaths of Apollo. To clarify: what would have happened if an Apollo failure had stranded a crew in Lunar orbit, or prevented a course correction? The effects would have been disasterous.

Random63

I work on the shuttle and I have found this article by Dr. Griffin to be far more informative of what goals NASA is seeking then any other media presentation or article before. He's quite realistic about what we have and what we can do. I know many of you want the latest, greatest, newest thing out there, but we can't afford to change our program every 5 years. You use what works. That's what the Russians have done and that's what we should be doing. The goal is to get to the moon and stay there. You use what works and worry about the new gee whiz technology another time. I would quit criticizing NASA, especially since none of you have ever launched anything into orbit, let alone to the moon. They are the experts and have "been there, done that". The man is the right man to lead NASA at this time and it's about time we had a real rocket scientist running the show. His selection by President Bush showed just how serious the President takes our space program. The President could have selected some political hack like Clinton did, but instead chose someone that is actually qualified and will get the job done. As I said before, use what works.

Be safe and be well.

giorgio gaviraghi

I believe that this approach needs an alternative.
Up to now the entire space program has been planned on an Earth based approach, meaning high costs and small payloads to let us out of a deep gravity well to go other gravity wells like the Moon and Mars.
We must think in a different way and try a space based approach, that don't requires the gravity wells limitations.
Such approach would require a NEO interception and deflection in a convenient cyclical orbit such as in the Earth-Moon trajectory.
Once in Earth proximity with a simple mission we could equip the asteroid with a station utilizing the affordable Astrohab system and have a practically free spaceship to the Moon and back.
With such infrastructure in space any mission will only require a shuttle form Earth to the station and back and the same from the Moon, slashing all costs and allowing a permanent presence in our satellite.
The same approach could be followed for Mars and further on.
If we analyse carefully costs and schedule with such approach we could save , in the next 50 years , about 90% of money and 70 % of time compared to the more traditional earth based approach.

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