back to article Shock news: NASA lunar ambitions might be a bit too... ambitious

The NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has said the chances of the agency meeting the goal of landing humans on the Moon by 2024 are looking ever slimmer. "We believe the Agency will be hard-pressed to land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024," said the OIG in a report (PDF) filed yesterday on the management and …

  1. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Admittedly, what's the point of sending a human there? It's been done before, at this point it's just checking whether we can do it again fifty years after, with vastly more experience of rocket science and technology that is insanely more powerful. It's not the worst thing to waste money on, but you can do more interesting.

    1. redpawn

      There is no point in doing something that has been done before, take sex for instance.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Like space exploration, sex is much better done by robots. For a start you can have more of them, and they don't need to breathe.

      2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        The cold war's over though

        Space exploration should be driven by scientific goals, and maximising what you can learn for the money you're spending, not geopolitical willy waving. Leave that to the sex.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Limit on the possible

      Although rocket science and technology has moved forward in the last 50 years NASA was required to buy antique parts from the preferred manufacturers for SLS (to meet deadlines and keep the price down). When the delays and cost overruns became ridiculous congress relaxed the restrictions so the major parts could be redesigned at great expense to justify the delays. The basic design (Hydrogen+solid boosters) had to remain the same so SLS could continue to use space shuttle main engines (and two new versions of those engines with upgrades for modern manufacturing techniques and disposability). The goal is not to produce a more powerful rocket than Saturn V (44,000kg to trans-lunar injection). The SLS crew (Artemis) spec is 37,000kg to TLI and the SLS Cargo (Europa Clipper) spec is 40,000 to TLI.

      Despite what the OIG says, SLS is delivering as required: truck loads of money to the preferred contractors in every state. This gets politicians elected so they vote to increase the SLS budget. Artemis was never about new foot-prints on the Moon in 2024. That was just blatant fiction to get the vote of President COVID.

      If you want congress to budget for something interesting in space you will have to get a majority of voters to take sufficient interest that they work out for themselves what SLS is and what could be achieved with a modern rocket like Falcon 9/heavy or a futuristic rocket like Starship+Superheavy.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      50 years age we hadn't invented anti-engineering. Business Science is the antithesis of progress and we need to check we can do what we did with primitive technology years ago with MBAs in the build process. I fear it may be impossible now.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How much can you learn in 80 hours ?

      80 hours 32 minutes was the cumulative time spent outside the Lunar Module on the surface of the moon for all the Apollo missions. It takes about that to get from earths orbit into the moons orbit or vice versa.

      e.g. Apollo 11

      00:00:00: Apollo 11 Launch

      02:44:16: Once Around Earth and then to the Moon

      03:24:03: 180 degree flip of craft and eject Saturn V

      ~ 3 days later they arrive at moon

      75:49:50: Trans-lunar injection

      100:39:53: Lunar Module descent to surface

      102:45:40: 'The Eagle Has Landed'

      109:07:33: Armstrong, Aldrin on the Moon: 'That's One Small Step...'

      124:22:01: A Meal, a Nap, Then Lift-Off From the Moon

      128:03:00: Docking With Command Module

      ~ 3 days later they arrive at earth

      195:07:15: Re-entry into Earth’s Atmosphere

      195:18:35: Splashdown

      The total mission duration was 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds

      The LM was on the moon's surface for 21 hours, 36 minutes, 8 seconds.

      The total time outside the LM was 2 hours 31 minutes 40 seconds.

      There is a reason the missions were all kept short with limited time outside the LM, and that was to reduce the exposure time to the radiation. The surface of the Moon is exposed directly to cosmic rays and solar flares, most of which is difficult to stop with shielding (maybe ~2 meters ; ~6 feet of rock overhead might help). And when cosmic rays hit the surface of the moon (and the surface of mars), they produce a spray of secondary particles right into your feet.

      If we go to the moon again it will be to live there for weeks, months, years to learn all the lessons we can on a place that is close enough that rescue is at least plausible when/if things go wrong.

      Look at the below and if you still think going back to the moon is a waste of time then (censored) (censored) was a (censored) and your (censored) (censored) of elderberry :

      Earth to the Moon 0.3844 million kilometers ~3 days (you could at least live 3 days without food)

      Earth to Mars 54.6 million kilometers (minimum) ~6 to 8 months for minimum resources.

      Earth to Mars 401 million km (maximum) ~2+ years!

      ( ref: https://twitter.com/cjhandmer/status/980536326763065344 )

      1. SealTeam6

        Flight timings well researched, but wasn’t most of the science performed back on Earth after the Apollo astronauts retrieved lunar samples? That study is still ongoing, isn’t it?

    5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Yeah, and what was the point of humans exploring outside their homeland in East Africa? All those other continents should have been left unexplored.

      1. jake Silver badge

        ::sh::

        You'll give the greenaholics ideas ...

  2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Apollo

    I think it is in the documentary 'I Am Not Your Negro' (warning, savage racism and violence included) that there is a poem / song about all the deprivation and discrimination black people face in the USA while 'Whitey's on the Moon'.

    It would be an opportunity for NASA to put a black woman astronaut there (and bring her back), although the white supremacists would hate it.

    The point of going back is to continue the fantasy that humanity could somehow become a space-borne spices and colonise other planets and eventually even other solar systems. (At the moment it is a fantasy, sorry, but do feel free to dream.)

    1. John Miles

      Re: is to continue the fantasy that humanity could somehow become a space-borne spices

      Well if we don't start trying it will always remain a fantasy.

      anyway I thought we meant to take the spice Melange, not become it ;)

    2. Mage
      Boffin

      Re: continue the fantasy that humanity

      This is where we live. We need to take care of if. Even if there were starships only a miniscule number of people could travel. No impact to Earth or Humanity at all apart from extra cost and pollution.

      Moon and Mars bases are pointless compared to robot exploration and merely a massive ego trip for the elite. Just because something is fun in SF does not mean it's a sensible blueprint for the future.

      Human bases on Mars or the Moon, or on one of Jupiter's moons are nice topics for fiction, but would be an ongoing drain on resources here with tiny scientific returns compared to robotic rovers.

      1. John Savard

        Re: continue the fantasy that humanity

        This is true enough, but what happens to humanity and all of its achievements if, despite our best efforts, we cannot preserve the Earth? After all, a number of things outside our control could destroy the Earth. An asteroid impact is one possibility.

        Also, there are foreign countries with non-democratic regimes in possession of nuclear weapons; that means we can't carry out regime change on them, therefore their behavior is outside our control. So they might decide to start a global thermonuclear war on a whim, or simply decide not to cooperate in fighting global warming.

        Of course, given that at the present time even some of the world's democratic nations have not worked to fight global warming, we have done worse than we could.

        Setting up a self-sustaining colony on Mars or in the asteroid belt or orbiting the Moon would ensure the continuation of the human story even if most of us perished; while that would be a poor second-best, it is better than nothing and it's not clear that we will succeed in saving the Earth.

        Of course, ultimately, we must fail, as the Sun will someday go off the Main Sequence. Proxima Centauri b, on the other hand, will be around long after that happens, since small stars live longer.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: continue the fantasy that humanity

          OK so I meant to write "species", not "spices", sorry for the amusement.

          Not sure that a self-sustaining colony is possible on either the Moon or Mars, as it would inevitably eventually run out of water well before the Earth does.

          As for Proxima Centauri b, it is about 4.3 light years away, which seems a bit close for when the Sun goes and self-destructs, although safer than here, obviously.

          Of course the NASA competition to find the shortest route to 'colonise the galaxy' (taking millions of years) has found an answer. Now they just need a viable interstellar travel system, and to sort out the ethics of inhabiting Earth-like planets with 20% O2 atmospheres which probably have their own life already (but, hey, conquering inhabited places has never bothered us humans in the past).

          Ah well, back to "Farmer in the Sky".

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: continue the fantasy that humanity

          Of course, ultimately, we must fail, as the Sun will someday go off the Main Sequence.

          Ultimately, intelligent beings do not have a future in this universe. Entropy wins in the end and will wipe out brains sooner than later.

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: Apollo

      "It would be an opportunity for NASA to put a black woman astronaut there"

      Are you suggesting NASA should subscribe to this new, ultra-fashionable Tokenism? What would that gain anyone? I think Malcolm X might have had something to say about that ... maybe something along the lines of “What gains? All you have gotten is tokenism — three or four Negroes in a job, or at a lunch counter, or on the Moon, or as Vice President, so the rest of you will be quiet.”

      Appointing people because of the colo(u)r of their skin is not a valid answer. All it is is a bandaid (plaster to you Brits) on a bullet wound.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Apollo

        @ Jake

        You raise a valid point, thank you.

        I do remember the scenes in the film 'Hidden Figures' where John Glenn makes a point of talking to the segregated black NSAS employees, and insists that the calculations be checked by the black 'clever' lady before he will enter the Mercury capsule for the first American orbital spaceflight (Alan Shepherd's previous spaceflight was ballistic, not orbital).

        It may be tokenism, to send someone to the Moon purely based on the colour of their skin, but having a cadre of genuine astronauts which is racially diverse would be a good signal. Steve Biko claimed that black people need to see black people succeeding in order to believe that they too can succeed while fighting against apartheid in South Africa.

        So I need to think about this more carefully, I expect.

        Thanks again for your comment.

      2. walterp

        Re: Apollo

        Black Astronauts are not tokens in the American space program. There have been 15 of them that have gone into space, starting with Guion Bluford in 1983. Frederick Gregory was the first black pilot and commander of a Shuttle mission. There have also been multiple black women in space. There are currently black women in NASA's astronauts program, one of whom (Jeanette Epps), is scheduled to go to the ISS in Boeing's Starline.

        I've meet Jeanette Epps, she is not a token. It is a fully qualified member of NASA.

        I know this is an old fashioned request, but do you have any proof that these women are tokens?

        There is a difference between saying it would be an opportunity to put one of NASA's qualied black women on the moon and putting a black woman on the moon because she was a black woman. I thin the first was what was meant. Jumping to conclusions in the absence of evidence is rarely a good idea.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boondoggle, per ususal.

    We were supposed to be going to Mars, but the rocket that was supposed to take us there was based on 60's era tech, and wasn't going to make the launch window anyway. If it can't make it to Mars, then what good is the Mars rocket? So to keep the rocket engineers from all getting laid off, they hatch this moon mission and lobby it like the F-35. With an more idiotic than usual clown in the white house they approve a manned moon mission, and an even more pointless "Lunar Gateway"

    This in not to say there is no reason to go back to the moon, but if we do we should at least do some real science missions while we are there. There may not be an ironclad reason to send astronauts, but it is a way to pull some of the work that would need to be done for a Mars mission and shake out any problems it would have. If we cut the gateway to pay for that, so much the better. And as other players nations push into earth orbit, putting a fresh flag down that says we can still go bigger, deeper, and faster than anyone else may have political benefit.

    That said, if we do this, it's going to be on a SpaceX rocket in all likelihood. If that helps pull forward work on a Mars rocket, again, so much the better, but we'd get more science out of getting the James Webb out of mothballs then the Gateway component as designed.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Priorities

    After we rebuild Arecibo, put balloons into the clouds of Venus, put a rover on Titan and on Enceladus, and put a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon, then we can consider a moon base.

    1. slimshady76

      Re: Priorities

      This. Putting a 40-something years old flesh bag in the moon for a couple of days costs the same as 2-3 robotic mission to the dark side, with vastly more science returns and a longer time in the surface.

      The Rocket Equation is a harsh mistress, and we all know how bad we humans tolerate the interplanetary medium. So why spend a shit ton of money, time and resources to have a piss contest with other space agencies when we could learn much more about a lot of other worlds we know much less about?

      The whole He-3, ISRU research, and other fancy science fiction scripts are even more retarded arguments to keep alive a giant rocket which was dead even before its conception.

    2. Mage
      Alien

      Re: radio telescope on the far side of the Moon

      With an orbiting craft for control and return data. Or near the pole with a laser link just past the pole on our side. An optical telescope would also be good, it could be on a pole as it doesn't need RF shielding from Earth.

      Far more use than Moon or Mars Bases. As are rovers on a moon of Jupiter.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: radio telescope on the far side of the Moon

        Why put an optical telescope through launch from Earth's surface and then land it on the Moon when it could so much more easily be floating free in space and not hampered by Moonquakes?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quake_(natural_phenomenon)

        "A moonquake is the lunar equivalent of an earthquake (i.e., a quake on the Moon). They were first discovered by the Apollo astronauts. The largest moonquakes are much weaker than the largest earthquakes, though their shaking can last for up to an hour, due to fewer attenuating factors to dampen seismic vibrations."

    3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: Priorities

      Actually, I think they are considering sending a submarine to Titan to study a lake:

      https://www.space.com/saturn-moon-titan-submarine-concept-mission.html

      "Researchers have been crafting a concept mission that would send a submarine to Saturn's huge moon Titan, which sports lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons on its frigid surface.

      Such a mission, if approved and funded by NASA, could be ready to launch in the 2030s, potentially paving the way for even more ambitious submarine exploration down the road, the concept's developers said."

  5. Scott Broukell

    Perhaps they should consider a replacement bus service instead - just a thought.

  6. Anonymous Coward
  7. John Savard

    Schedule Change

    Well, barring any unusual modifications to the U.S. electoral result not anticipated by the mainstream news media, surely a schedule slip to 2028 would be fully acceptable under current circumstances.

  8. David Pearce

    The dust problem

    Some of the Apollo astronauts nearly wore through their boots. Lunar dust is almost as bad a diamond dust and cuts though Kevlar like butter.

    A manned base on the Moon will be very hard to do. I am not sure how abrasive Mars dust is.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: The dust problem

      I think Mars dust is less aggressive than Moon dust as there are talent-wide diet storms which abraid the particles and rocky surface, rounding the grains. The Moon has no such events.

  9. David Roberts
    Go

    Emotional involvement?

    Probably far harder to sell the concept of robots exploring the solar system than people.

    One could vicariously imagine oneself flying into space, but not get invested in the idea of some gadget being sent there.

    Very rich people are queueing up to go to (or near) space because it is still seen as romantic and special.

    So I am all in favour of manned (personned) missions because they are more likely to get public support and a lot of science gets done anyway.

    Sometimes justified as preparation for human missions

  10. 96percentchimp

    Mars Insight shows that space exploration needs boots on the ground

    Unmanned probes are wonderful for surveying the solar system, taking incredible pictures and making remote measurements, but the failure of Mars Insight's mole tool has shown the harsh limitations of robot exploration. The mole had barely penetrated the Martian surface when it started to bounce out, and NASA's very smart engineers have spent the rest of the mission trying to make it dig.

    More than 600 days later, they've succeeded, but it's hard not to think that astronauts equipped with a variety of equipment and 3D printers could have rapidly worked through a range of solutions and got to work much faster. The same thing is going to happen with further robotic exploration on the Moon and ambitious plans for Europa, Titan and Enceladus. The Mars Sample Return mission could absolutely be crippled by a similar unforseen problem.

    Manned spaceflight will always be risky and more expensive than robots, but people can do science that robots can't, and if you want to see real geology or xenobiology, humans will need to be living on site in a well-equipped facility. Access to space is already getting cheaper, and that trend is going to accelerate, making the cost argument against human spaceflight increasingly irrelevant. The rest of it is an engineering challenge, and the only way to overcome that is to get out there and see what works.

  11. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    We choose to go to the moon in this decade....

  12. Somewhat Confused

    Study is still required...

    I reckon they should have the gender / equity / diversity study finished by 2024.

  13. JCitizen
    Mushroom

    2nd men on the moon..

    Seems to me, if all the private space venturists, got together on a manned moon mission, it would solve the budgeting and save NASA from doing it. Another thought is that some may be mistaken as why we need to go there. Mars is going to be the largest challenge man kind has ever accomplished so far, and as in war, you need to practice and test new machines and materials before blasting off toward that big red rock. But that is only one reason a return to the moon may be important.

    IIRC the Sally Ride report described the best strategy to making the trip - I think she wrote this before ISS was built, but that doesn't matter - she proposed that doing a frog lily pad approach was the way to go - 1st establish a good space station in Earth orbit, then a base on the moon to support the mars effort ( low gravity saves fuel - and can act as a construction and science base.) Only then can you make that final hop to Mars. If you can't survive on the Moon then you have no business completing the Mars journey. I wouldn't doubt we could go back there easier than we may think.

    We could construct the lander and orbital command ship at the ISS, then in the last launch, only a fuel booster would be sent to marry up with the Lunar Landing ship to finish the voyage. Thought should be given to putting a structure on the lander that could double as a beginning structure to a moon base. This way every piece and part goes toward the goal. The lander doubles as a launch port just like in the LEM design, but perhaps it could include a robotic design that would later help build the Moon research station. This is going to be left behind after the module launch so why not take every advantage possible. Then robots could be used in an attempt to prepare a ground base to make a human return to a semi permanent research center possible.

    The possibilities seem endless, and I get excited just brain storming new ideas. I'm sure someone could easily come up with a much more genius method that I could ever dream up. Lets GO!!

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