back to article NASA gets cold feet on Moon base plan

NASA is dithering about whether its future plans should include a Moon base or focus on missions further out into the solar system, New Scientist reports. Speaking yesterday, the agency's acting administrator, Chris Scolese, suggested "a shift in the agency's direction", from his predecessor Mike Griffin's commitment to a …

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  1. Michael
    Alien

    Conspiracy theory but...

    Theres already a moon base! EBE's through the Serpo project helped them build it as part of the exchange program on how to conquer space!

  2. storng.bare.durid
    Thumb Up

    This is good

    It's good to go to space, but it's also good to figure out what else we have right in front of us at the moment that needs fixing first.

  3. Steve Swann
    Boffin

    H3

    I was under the impression that there was a good reason for a 'moonbase' project; Helium 3.

    H3 is a very rare material on Earth, but appears to be available in abundance on the Moon. It's primary use is in creating shielding for Fusion reactors. Such reactors are possible if we were capable of producing the shielding at a low cost and right now H3 is possibly one of the most expensive materials known to mankind.

    Any hardcore physcists out there care to comment?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Regardless of one's position on manned exploration

    The biggest reason NASA's ISS & manned programs have been an unmitigated disaster post-Apollo, and the fantastic unmanned programs have been repeatedly raped by them, is this constant dithering by NASA. And because NASA keeps dithering, costs escalate uncontrolled due to the contractor's needing to constantly make changes to accommodate the moving targets. The ISS is a perfect example of this, where "cost cutting" target changes actually increase costs but still result in reduced capability.

  5. mike
    Go

    hhhhmmmmm

    Its gotta be a moon base, but if NASA can't; perhaps El Reg should assemble the "Nerds In Space Agency".

  6. Dion

    New Roadmap

    Everyone should visit:

    http://www.planetary.org/programs/projects/space_advocacy/roadmap.html

    D

  7. Paul Powell

    Surely it can't be that hard? (relatively speaking)

    1961 - First American in space, less than a month after Gagarin

    20 Days later JFK commits to the moon programme. At this stage the mercury capsule is little more than a pressurised bubble on top of a redstone rocket (Basically a Ballistic missile) on a *Sub Orbital* hop.

    1969 - Armstrong on the moon - that's eight years and a couple of months (and a hell of a lot of dollars I'll admit).

    So then NASA spends years on the space shuttle, space stations etc, and somehow it now takes till 2020. Sure the goal is more ambitious, but with all that learning under their belts what is holding NASA back?

  8. Tim

    Mars instead

    Obama should challenge them to get to Mars, not the Moon, by 2020; the economic stimulus of this would be good for the whole US economy, and the whole endeavour would be great for the US as a nation.

    Tim#3

  9. Stevie Silver badge
    Alien

    Bah.

    [4 Steve Swann] "Fusion reactors"? Did I blink and miss the landmark experiement that proves it is possible to get a positive energy flow from a sustained fusion reaction? Odd, I'm normally all over that sort of thing.

    [4 Paul Powell] All the notes and tooling we used the last time was quietly destroyed. It seems that the Apollo project was produced like a military aerospace project would be - highly comparmentalised and subject to certain laws that *require* the manufacturers involved to destroy all documents after 25 years.

    Next time someone says "We can put a man on the moon but we can't...." look up in surprise and announce that we *can't* put a man on the moon, not without reinventing all sorts of wheels that we no longer know how to make and that people don't want to pay for.

    And it *is* that hard. Hard enough that it drains money from the tax coffers faster than a publically traded bank does every time we do it, poses a severe health risk to the people making the journey at almost every step of the way, and we're not at all sure why we would go in the first place.

    Don't get me wrong. I was dragged up during the Von Braun-as-a-good-guy years and fully expected to be taking vacations in the Sea of Tranquility by now. I even had little picture cards I got with ice-lollies that told me what it would all look like, and I still have my "Sky Ray" Space Captain's badge. I'd go myself tomorrow if they asked, and damn the very substantial risks, but I couldn't look anyone in the eye and give them a reason why they should pay for it.

    I can do that for Earth orbit space shots of course. People tend to forget that their Cable TV, Cell Phones, GPS devices and even their reliable (hahaha) weather prediction are all predicated on a healthy earth-to-orbit business. But the Moon? We only went there in the first place because the Russions said *they* would and everyone knows you can't let that sort of nonsense go unchallenged (grunt grunt).

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    NASA needs to get their shit together

    and DECIDE what they're going to do, then say "either fund us or not"

    They're dithering around now about actually finally killing the Shuttle, wasting tons of money and manpower beating that dead horse when they should be focusing on Constellation. This is because various Congress-morons want to save Shuttle jobs in their particular backyard.

    They attempt to suck up to Congress for funds, going "we'll do whatever you fund" instead of setting a roadmap and saying "put up or shut up" - so nothing can depend on funds, and you can't make plans, and so you hurry and spend lots of money getting something done quickly before Congress changes its mind.

    Right now they're considering cutting the 6-man Orion back, totally fucking any future expandability and mission flexibility, so it'll end up a one-shot fixed-purpose thing instead of the original "well it can go to the ISS or it can go to the Moon, and perhaps be adaptable to Mars" plan.

    AC@12:21 has it exactly right. And so does Stevie... I've said "no, we CAN'T put a man on the moon anymore" many times.

    Personally, I think NASA should be either disbanded, or go back to basic research. I think if DirecTV or Google want to put satellites up, they should fund their own launch infrastructure with Boeing or whoever. Stop screwing around and get those morons in Congress the hell out of the loop.

  11. Paul Powell

    @stevie

    You're probably right about document destruction - but in a way that's the point I was making - from being able to do a suborbital hop to walking on the moon took just over eight years - even with doing all the learning for the first time.

    And all of it was done without CAD software, computer simulations, composite materials. It should be a hell of a lot easier now - so what gets in the way?

    It does all cost a hell of a lot, but not that much in the scheme of things - as JFK said "A staggering sum of money, but somewhat less than we spend on cigarettes every year"

    Still, there we go - perhaps the Chinese will put the American's backs up and get things moving again.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    @Stevie

    Agreed. Bottom line, if China or Korea or someone decide to give it a good go, watch how quickly the US will jump into action. Otherwise prepare for dilly-dally-ing, administrations coming and going, goals changing etc.

  13. Stevie Silver badge
    Alien

    Bah!

    If this sorry story is subject to an El Reg re-enactment - as it surely must be - it will have to be done using vintage Major Matt Mason toys. This is problematical on several grounds:

    a) The toys are no longer being made, having gone off the market during the Nixon administration, forcing an eBay-driven acquisition model with all the atendant risks of scam sellers not delivering the goods

    2) The moonbase accessory, while available on eBay, is priced substantially higher than the current estimated cost of setting up the real thing and running it for two years.

    I remain optimistic that El Reg will come through.

  14. Doug Glass
    Go

    No Dogs Allowed

    Because they can afford any Luna ticks!

  15. Greg Trocchia
    Boffin

    @Steve Swann

    The reason that Helium 3 is of such interest is not as a shielding material, rather it is as a fuel. Deuterium/Tritium fusion (the type that researchers are trying to achieve) has a drawback, one of the products of the fusion is a neutron. Thus, a working D/T fusion reactor will put out hard neutron radiation, causing all the surrounding materials to become radioactive. The upshot of this is that while there might not be the same spent fuel problems you have with a fission reactor, there is the same problem of decommissioning. In each case years of neutron bombardment will cause the reactor innards to become a highly radioactive.

    Helium 3, OTOH, can fuse in a reaction that does not produce neutrons as a fusion product. Thus, while an operating reactor using Helium 3 will put out radiation, when shut down there should be little residual radiation to deal with- unlike fission or D/T fusion plants, which remain "hot" whether operating or not. As a further bonus, instead of the neutrons you get from D/T, you get protons when using Helium 3. The reason that this is a bonus is that a moving proton constitutes a type of electrical current and it is possible use this to get electricity (a current of moving electrons) in a more direct manner than by heating water and using the resulting steam to turn a generator.

    Unfortunately, as with so many things in life, there is a catch (in fact there are two big catches in this case). The first is the scarcity of Helium 3 on Earth that you have already mentioned. The second thing is that Helium 3 fusion is far more challenging to achieve than D/T fusion, which itself has been frustrating fusion researchers for decades.

    Whether or not Helium 3 becomes an important part of our energy future, the Moon is a natural place to start whenever you want to build serious infrastructure beyond the Earth. The reason is the lower gravity (escape velocity requires less than 1/20 the energy needed from Earth's surface) and absence of atmosphere on the Moon combined with the proximity of the Moon. Lifting material in bulk from the Moon should inherently cost a fraction of what it does from Earth, once the set up on the Moon to do the job becomes operative. In addition, any technological advance which would lessen the cost of lifting Earth material should be equally applicable to the Moon, so this advantage should be quite robust. While space exploration may or may not involve a return to the Moon, doing space development (as distinct from said exploration) will pretty much necessitate going back there.

  16. Raymond Cranfill

    We should be there already

    I've been lucky enough to have front row seats to U.S. space missions since the original Mercury 7 (yes, I am that old). I was certain, along with many others, that space travel would be routine by now, replete with moon bases. People don't seem to understand that if we want to survive as a species, and open up resources that will become increasingly difficult and environmentally damaging to extract from the earth, we must have an active and expanding presence in space. The chinese are well on their way to acheiving thse goals by the 2050s. How sad the americans, europeans and russians will be left behind.

  17. Charles Manning

    Why go to the moon?

    Rather study a planet that we don't know much about and is far more important to us. It's called EARTH.

  18. Phil Parker
    Alert

    We can't do it

    No Western government can do a project of this magnatude any more. After a week the press (some of whom can't even run a dancing competition) demand to know what has happened and why there aren't results NOW. Politicians get scared and start interfering then it all goes wrong as mission creep kicks in big time.

    Only the Chinese can get to the moon.

  19. M7S
    Joke

    Moon Bases? It's just chasing SHADO's

    Ta da!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    Ten years too late.

    And it's still only worth doing if they call the base 'Alpha' and can find a woman able to change into animals as required.

    50 geek points to anyone with the first clue what I'm talking about.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    It's too risky now...

    anyone remember Dr Strangepork and PIGS IN SPAAAAAACE......!!!!

    Cue Muppets tune.....

  22. Steve Swann
    Thumb Up

    @Greg Trocchia

    Thanks for the enlightening detail, Greg. I'm only an armchair physicist so I'm often left wondering about specific detail after watching the latest round of pop-science documentaries!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Wot No Moonalloon?

    shame was looking forward to seeing an inflatable moon balloon habitat. . well seeing it streak around the sky with a puncture perhaps...

  24. Lukin Brewer
    Joke

    Surely...

    NASA can take over the old Nazi moon base that was constructed during the legendary 1940s. Most of the creaky old Nazi scientists will have died and gone on to Walhalla by now, leaving just a few twitching mechanical arms, a load of dusty swastika banners, the odd doomsday device, and maybe Hitler's brain in a jar. I suppose, though, they ought to send Hellboy up there to check it out first, just to be on the safe side.

  25. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alien

    Moonbase Alpha

    Just don't build any nuclear waste dumps there....

  26. Seán
    Boffin

    No need for the primitive

    Just because a bunch of dudes caulked up a caravan and managed to get there and back hardly qualifies as doing the job, otherwise Top Gear would be making cruise liners as a sideline. Designs from the sixties using obsolete materials and slide rules would be no use today, it'd be akin to using the empire state building as a template for all skyscrapers.

    The work done by the Russians over the years on rocket engines, design and materials combined with the field testing done on Mir, Skylab and the ISS along with advances in materials and CAD allows us to build structures which have been verified to last for years in space rather than a long weekend.

    " "Fusion reactors"? Did I blink and miss the landmark experiement that proves it is

    possible to get a positive energy flow from a sustained fusion reaction? Odd, I'm normally all over that sort of thing."

    You should have paid more attention:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606

    The Jules Verne passed all tests with flying colours. It's human rated and the rocket it was launched on is also human rated so all it needs is some seats and the EU has the wherewithal to build an orbital station composed of several of these modules and a docking junction. Due to the thrusters on each module the station could be in orbit around the Earth or the Moon.

    There is no point whatsoever in going to Mars, it's a poxy wasteland with gravity and an atmosphere. It's three months or more flying time away. Discovering some bacteria or lichen under a rock after ten years of hideously expensive searching followed by the lame headline "We are not alone!" in the Sun is hardly inspiring. The moon is relatively close to home, no atmosphere, sod all gravity, water, plenty of h3 and an endless supply of building materials for bases, probes or ships. Launching using mag lev slingshots is easy when you can use superconductors in vacuum and 1/6th gravity.

    The US is bankrupt, maybe the new owners will be interested in space maybe they'll be distracted renaming the various states after Chinese heroes and legends. Either way the EU and Russia should work together to get a moonbase or two up and running.

  27. Greg Adams

    @Lukin

    The Nazis are still up there. They'll be back in 2018.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    @Greg Trocchia

    "Lifting material in bulk from the Moon should inherently cost a fraction of what it does from Earth, once the set up on the Moon to do the job becomes operative. "

    I don't quite follow your logic here. Surely all that material will have to be lifted from Earth in the first place? The only stuff that we'll lift from the Moon (if anything) is the He3.

    I know it's not my coat. I'm just lifting some stuff.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Hardware Requirements

    How can there be all this talk of a moonbase, when the Eagle transporter has not got past the mock-up model stage (1:72 scale)?

  30. Darryl Parvin

    Santa Claus likes his privacy

    Why do I think its never seriously been on the agenda in the first place?

    This has been a recent ploy in American politics. Someone stands up and declares they'll investigate/pursue "whatever". They draw all the fire and enthusiasm off and then much later shelve the whole idea. Did it with the impeachment of Bush, did it with the prosecution of torture and now with the moon base. It's a cynical ploy to simply run down the clock.

  31. Darryl Parvin

    Technology is being blunted

    Look around the kitchen you're in. There isn't much innovation in there that's more recent than 1964. And cars? Very, very modest improvements. If you think that's not the case then

    consider it took just 60+ years to go from the Wright Flyer to the SR-71 Blackbird!! And in the 60 years since? The Shuttle?? Give me a break! WHERE'S MY JETPACK!? The answer? I believe the money has been dammed or diverted to the monopoly game called The Finance Market.

    These people call themselves "financiers, capitalists and investors"? Under that logic the punter at the race track is an "investor". He goes down the newspaper column, looks at the previous results and "expert" punter predictions, buys pieces of paper, and if he wins: Presto! He collects more paper. Nothing created but that money could've gone to pay the wages or investments for further research. Of course if he loses then he mugs the guy in the street for $700B and heads right back to the track, er.. stock market.

    And as a further blow to innovation the govt. doesn't want us to get too technological. They worry about break-ins on the 30th floor so there'll never be anti-grav/jet pack machines. They see drunk-driving at 500km/h so no flying cars. Free energy research leads inevitably to removing the oil hegemony and tax revenues. Technology could end up making us so independent we virtually secede from "the-powers-that-be" of a taxing society. Also "bad" is uninhibited communication/freedom of information so now you need your passport to get a mobile phone. Look at the internet. It's tax free. They can't control these things.

    So.. no moon base. Technology is muted by control of the $$$ excepting certain fields like more tracking/NSA satellites.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Game over, learn to speak Chinese

    "Only the Chinese can get to the moon"

    ...where they'll build stuff that can zap all the U.S. defense satellites, and sadly because of U.S. defense-budgets cuts (blame the peace-nik Democrats) the U.S. weapons can't reach far enough to zap the moon-based Chinese weapons... uh-oh...

    Game over. Chinese win. Hope you're ready to learn to speak Chinese, because no doubt the Chinese victors will suppress the English language much the same way as the British suppressed the Irish language (<http://www.politics.ie/history/26726-suppression-irish-language-19th-century.html>) and the same way that the oldtime U.S. white slave-holders suppressed native African languages in the slave population (for fear of plots of rebellion). The winners get to call the shots, after all.

    Anyway, the point is, the only reason we went to the moon in the first place, was for military/strategic reasons (despite the public being conned into believing it was for "exploration" and whatnot), and that will likely be the only future reason that anyone ventures to the moon or anywhere else in the galaxy.

    Nations that don't have the funding for this sort of thing, well that's too bad and all, but to be a "winner" in this game, requires adequate funding. And the proper, er, "persuasions" to get the public to agree to said funding.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The Moon is Necessary.......

    It is absolutely necessary to get back to the moon and mine its riches. There are rare and special metals "on the Moon" necessary for Galaxy Space Travel. While the technology to discover and use these materials is currently being developed; the world will find that "space travel" will be a slow boat to China if we pass up this opportunity.

    The materials available there will not only provide a safe space vessel environment, but also the fuel to power that vessel; this will make travel to the stars a doable venture in our lifetime.

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