Moon Direct SpaceX Falcon Heavy Plan is 6 Years Faster and 50 times Cheaper than NASA

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says the U.S. is within 10 years of having a continuous manned presence on the moon, which will lay the groundwork for expanding space exploration to Mars. A Moon Direct plan (created by Robert Zubrin) could get continuously manned moon bases in four years.

This is all better than nothing, but the NASA approach is a waste of money. However, this is part of promoting the wasteful Lunar Gateway program. Lunar Gateway is going to cost $100+ billion. It is using the International Space Station (ISS) style technology to build a space station orbiting the moon. It is better to waste money on space and get more space capability than it is to waste money on the military.

About 30 space shuttle launches were used to add components and modules to assemble the ISS. The Lunar Gateway looks like it will be built from about ten modules.

We could do a lot better in space and spend less money and get results sooner. We could use a few SpaceX Falcon Heavies and land directly on the moon with about 8 to 11 tons of moon base at a time. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy is flying now.

Nextbigfuture has another article about actual equipment being made for moon mining and fuel processing operations.

The Lunar Gateway plan is currently going to use the Space Launch System. Space Launch System and the Orion manned capsule wastes $4 to 5 billion per year. The Lunar Gateway is an expensive justification for the expensive Space Launch System.

Moon Direct Program

The Trump administration has said America should return to the Moon and build permanent bases. Robert Zubrin points out (in an article at New Atlantis) that this stated goal has not received any meaningful funding. The New Atlantis article by Robert Zubrin has an updated write up of his Moon Direct program proposal.

Robert Zubrin, a New Atlantis contributing editor, is president of Pioneer Astronautics and of the Mars Society. Robert Zubrin, “Moon Direct,” The New Atlantis, Number 56, Summer/Fall 2018, pp. 14-47.

The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway) is receiving some money. The gateway will be a waste.

The gateway is a planned space station that will orbit the Moon, supposedly serving as an outpost for human explorations to the Moon, Mars, and deep space.

NASA says Orion would take its first crew around the Moon by 2023. Vice President Pence has recently stated a goal of putting astronauts on the gateway by the end of 2024.

The Lunar Gateway idea is silly. There is no need to have a space station circling the Moon in order to go to the Moon or Mars or anywhere else. And there is not much research worth doing in lunar orbit that can’t already be done on the International Space Station, in Earth orbit, or with lunar probes and robots.

NASA claims the gateway would create an opportunity
* to test state-of-the-art propulsion, communication, and other technologies at a greater distance from Earth
* teleoperated rovers could be sent from the gateway to the Moon
* planets and stars could be observed from a different vantage than from the ISS or current telescopes.

None of these activities requires human presence in lunar orbit. These are not reasons for having a gateway, but rationalizations.

We don’t need a space station in lunar orbit — but we could use a base on the Moon itself. A Moon base would be much more than a stopping point; it could also be a site for producing hydrogen–oxygen rocket propellant from water on the Moon. This is a powerful propellant that has been a mainstay of rockets for decades, used by the Saturn V and the space shuttle.

Some areas on the moon have water ice concentrations of 30 percent by weight in the topmost layer of soil.

PNAS – Direct evidence of surface exposed water ice in the lunar polar regions

The moon is a world with a surface area larger than the continent of Africa. Its terrain is rough, roadless, and riverless, so astronauts cannot effectively explore it using surface vehicles. Lunar explorers are going to need to fly.

It is theoretically possible that multitudes of locations on the Moon could be visited by launching scores of missions directly from Earth, the cost of doing this would be astronomical. We need to create a base that can produce propellant on the Moon. Moon missions need to fueled and operated on the moon. Only occasional missions from Earth are needed to resupply consumables and switch out crews.

Where should such a base be located? The Moon’s poles are ideal not only because they have nearby permanently shadowed craters with water, but because they also feature near-permanently illuminated highlands offering reliable access to solar energy. The poles are thus the clear favorites for a base, as they provide both the raw material and the energy source necessary to manufacture hydrogen–oxygen rocket propellant.

Missions and Phases

There are three phases for the Zubrin plan.

● Phase 1: Unmanned missions deliver the materials for the lunar base to the Moon.

● Phase 2: Piloted missions make the base operational. A key objective of this phase is to bring propellant production online and make it continuously available.

● Phase 3: This is the long-term phase, with recurring piloted missions using propellant produced on site.

In Phase 1, two Falcon Heavy boosters are used to deliver the materials for the base and other cargo to the Moon.
In Phase 2, one Falcon Heavy and one Falcon 9 are used to deliver the crew to the Moon in a fueled LEV.

In Phase 3, only one Falcon 9 is used to deliver a new crew to orbit in a Dragon 2, exchange crews, and refuel the LEV. The new crew then flies to the Moon in the LEV, which refuels again at the lunar base, while the Dragon 2 returns to Earth with the previous crew.

Producing water and fuel on the moon

The top priority is propellant production. Each Moon Direct mission requires 6 metric tons of propellant to be made on the Moon for the LEV’s flight back to Earth orbit. It also requires 6 tons of propellant for each long-distance surface sortie from the base to a distant location on the Moon and back. For purposes of analysis, we will assume that once the base is operational, every fourth month there will be a round-trip mission from the Moon to Earth to exchange crew, and in each other month there will be one long-range exploration flight. The propellant manufacturing requirement will be 6 tons per month or 200 kilograms per day.

Engines running on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen use a higher ratio of hydrogen to oxygen than what is found in water. To get our 200 kilograms of propellant, we would need to electrolyze around 260 kilograms of water (about 70 gallons) per day. The happy side effect is that this would leave about 60 kg of leftover oxygen every day, which could be used for crew breathing supply.

The dominant power requirement will be for vaporizing and electrolyzing the water. To electrolyze 260 kg of water per day will require 56 kilowatts of power. We can estimate that water could be vaporized at the same rate using beamed microwaves with about 26 kilowatts of power. Cryogenic liquefaction of the hydrogen and oxygen products — aided by the extremely cold temperatures on the Moon — will add about 25 kilowatts, and life support and other equipment will also add another 13 kilowatts to the power needs. The estimate is 120 kilowatts for our total power requirement. This could be supplied by either a solar array or a nuclear reactor. Either solar or nuclear can be built with 4 tons using proposed technologies.

Moon Direct

Moon Direct requires relatively little launch mass and largely uses existing technologies.

Following our assumption that launch costs and non-launch costs will be roughly equal, we could execute our setup missions (two flights for Phase 1 and two Phase 2 missions) for about $1.5 billion. Recurring missions will cost $420 million per year. This is two percent of NASA’s current budget. This is very inexpensive by the standards of human space programs. NASA’s human spaceflight program total budget is currently around $10 billion per year with little clear purpose.

107 thoughts on “Moon Direct SpaceX Falcon Heavy Plan is 6 Years Faster and 50 times Cheaper than NASA”

  1. Don’t US government and congress get elections in the name of “democracy”? How come it sounds like despotism if you cannot even get rid of one senator’s bad idea?

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  2. NASA has an important role making spacecraft. If they were just forbidden from making launch systems, everything would be fine.

    Note: Orion is a POS because it has to be a POS in order to be light enough to go to TLI on an SLS Block 1. It’s not the most elegant spacecraft ever produced, but it’ll do what it’s supposed to do: keep a crew alive for 3 weeks in deep space. Despite all the bluster about something like Dragon 2 being able to replace it, D2 is missing a whole bunch of things that are fairly important requirements: long enough mission life, endless testing for beyond-earth-orbit radiation, the proper thermal characteristics, high-gain comm, and my personal favorite, a toilet.

    If you stretched the Orion service module a bit so it could take on 15.2 t of MMH/NTO on-orbit (about 6 t more than its current capacity), and allowed it to dock with a tug stage, instead of requiring it to launch and do TLI with SLS, it would be a perfectly fine way of getting crews from Earth to LLO. It would also launch at only about 17 t, which means that either an F9 or an Atlas V could launch it today.

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  3. I don’t think so. SpaceX is going to be seriously cash-strapped until Starlink and BFR are behind them. They’ll have zero capital for the R&D necessary to create a base.

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  4. “The entire point is to make a purpose for SLS.”

    Actually, the point of LOP-G is more about a purpose for Orion. No SLS second stage, not even EUS, will have the life to do a lunar orbit insertion burn, so Orion has to do LOI and then get back to TEI for reentry.

    Problem is (and every time I write this, I want to bang my head on the desk), Orion doesn’t have the delta-v to do both an LOI into low orbit and get back to TEI. But it does have enough delta-v to get into a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) and back. Voila! That’s where they’ll put LOP-G.

    “SLS has mass to low lunar orbit than F9H so Lunar gateway is something that F9H cannot do and so you must have SLS.”

    I think there’s a “more” missing from that statement. Just to clarify:

    3-stick-reusable FH: 10.9 t to TLI (at least by my model)
    2-stick-reusable FH: 16.9 t to TLI
    Expendable FH: 18.8 t to TLI
    SLS Block 1 (with ICPS): 26 t to TLI
    SLS Block 1B (with EUS): 35 t to TLI (but they keep changing the EUS)
    SLS Block 2 (bigger boosters): 45 t to TLI, but who cares? Not gonna happen.

    So you can’t send an Orion to TLI with an FH, but you could certainly send something else. Even better, you could send two something else’s. Hell, for the $2B that SLS costs to launch, you could send thirteen something else’s.

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  5. “NASA’s human spaceflight program total budget is currently around $10 billion per year with little clear purpose.”

    This is a silly comment; the clear purpose of the budget is to keep the NASA Bureaucracy and their pet contractors well funded.  This is especially true of the Alabama contingent and the keep Huntsville Green team.

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  6. Every new road and railway “makes” new land, in the sense that there is now a bunch of new area that is accessible and cheap to access.

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  7. I agree you have to store even just-in-time hydrolox for non-trivial amounts of time. But it dramatically simplifies the logistics by making it close to where it’ll be consumed, rather than back on the surface. Building a cryocooler that’s just adequate for liquefaction and maintenance for short periods in a cold orbital environment is a lot easier than making one for liquefaction and maintenance for long periods in a hot surface environment. (NB: even when the sun is down, the lunar surface is a lot hotter than NRHO, because the hot regolith is radiating.)

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  8. I fully expect orbital tugs to be launched from Earth for quite a while. The things that minimize dry mass on them have a lot more to do with lighter engines and smaller prop tanks than they do with creating some gossamer structure that couldn’t survive a launch. Plus, we’re already pretty good at launching satellites, which aren’t known for their heavyweight construction.

    It should also be noted what a deeply, deeply, deeply bad design BFS is if you’re trying to minimize prop during on-orbit operations. Its niche is getting out of and into Earth and Mars gravity wells. All that engine, fairing, and heat shield mass is a serious impediment to efficient on-orbit operations. The methalox architecture only makes things worse.

    This is not a dis on BFS; it’s being designed to be a reusable spacecraft that can aerobrake. It’s also designed to be cheap enough that the need for on-orbit refueling to go anywhere BEO still makes it pretty (but not optimally) economical for those missions. But in an environment where players will be competing for low-delay ferry operations, it isn’t going to win. No doubt SpaceX will create something else for that market when it matures.

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  9. Fair points. It would be useful for BFS and other methalox rockets (BO?), but you’re correct that there are better ways to arrange things in the longer run. Once there is in-orbit construction, making a space-optimized ship in space is easy enough (be it a tug or anything else). But it’ll take time and gradual build-up to get there, and in the mean time, BFS etc is the near-term bet.

    I suppose one could launch a space-optimized tug or what-not from Earth, but it will have to be tough enough to survive the launch, so can’t be fully optimized. Well, unless the reinforcements can somehow be removed. Some sort of external brace maybe?

    With regards to just-in-time fuel making, you’d still need to store it long enough to make enough fuel, or very high power to make it fast. Water splitting takes ~16 GJ/ton, plus inefficiencies, so a MW class depot would take ~5 hours/ton (~5 tons/day). But I was told that with a power supply one could make zero-boil-off hydrogen storage (or at least near-zero, I guess).

    All that being said, in principle, a depot could make both methalox and hydrolox, depending on what each rocket needs. The first step to making methalox is making hydrolox anyway, and most of the equipment is the same.

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  10. Space programs deliver more than just side benefits like increased computing powers.
    They deliver the only actual insurance that our species has for its continuity. As long as we are chained to this cradle, we are at 100% risk.

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  11. I understand the politics behind Lunar Gateway. Trump wants commercial sustainability on the Moon so that the next administration can’t just throw all that work away like what happened during President Bush plans NASA to go back to the moon only for President Obama to just throw away all that work and $billions away. So that is why Trump is focusing on beefing up these space companies for Gateway, probes, etc to increase speculation in investments for sustainability.

    I really like the Moon Direct plan but it can be reversed in an democratic administration just like what happened under Bush than Obama reversed it. A space station around the moon is something that just can’t be reversed.

    We need manufacturing of rockets components on the Moon in order to permanently have private sustainability in space.

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  12. Brian, could you increase the the maximum comment length? I know I’m a wordy SOB, but I’m not that wordy. You want people making complicated arguments here. That often requires more than 1500 characters.

    How ’bout 5000?

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  13. You’re slightly misreading what I said, I or wasn’t clear. It’s not a question of whether governments do long-term stuff “better” or “worse” than private industry; it’s that they’re capable of doing long-term things at all.

    Private industry requires a decent internal rate of return on R&D stuff, and that rate rises steeply as the time horizon increases. (That’s why new drugs are so friggin’ expensive: nobody will invest at that level of risk and time unless the potential IRR is >30%. And that in turn is why there are a lot more new boner pills on the market than there are new antibiotics.)

    For the last 60 years, there’s been no way that you could get an attractive IRR out of space. Now, after all of that public investment, you can get one in a couple of limited areas, namely launch services and earth-orbital spacecraft. And, lo and behold, there are vibrant private industries doing both things.

    But we’re still at least a decade away from getting those kinds of IRRs in cis-lunar space. And we’re more like two or three decades away from getting them in interplanetary.

    I don’t want NASA doing things that private industry can do better. But I do want them doing the things that private industry simply can’t find investors to do. That list includes crewed long-dwell spacecraft, interplanetary spacecraft, nuclear power systems, and crew habitats, both on-orbit and on the lunar and martian surfaces.

    But NASA should be out of the launcher business immediately.

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  14. I’m deeply skeptical of the economics of methalox on-orbit. Methalox makes all kinds of sense for launchers (both terrestrial and martian), but launching carbon from the bottom of Earth’s (and that’s where it’s coming from for quite a while) in order to make a lower-specific-impulse propellant strikes me as nuts.

    There are two problems with LH2, both of them solvable on-orbit:

    1) It’s hard to store for long periods. Solution: Use just-in-time production and store water instead.

    2) It makes high delta-v vehicles have large structural mass coefficients. Solution: The bulk of the delta-v requirements come from getting out of gravity wells, so use architectures that fuel on-orbit spacecraft, where the delta-v requirements to get to where you’re going are considerably more modest.

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  15. If you replace “production facilities” with “spacecraft” (which is what they really are), making two will seem a lot more reasonable. The actual electrolysis cells will be manufactured on Earth and deployed, not constructed in situ. This does require that the cells work equally well in 1.62 m/s^2 gravity and microgravity, but otherwise building a second (or more likely third, since you almost always keep a test article lounging around to debug problems post-deployment) is just an incremental manufacturing cost.

    I’d expect the power deployments to be different, but it may turn out that a modular small electrolysis + fixed solar power array is a better design, allowing you to gang small cells together as separately launchable units.

    The problem with launching finished hydrolox is twofold:

    1) Your cost on-orbit skyrockets as the inert mass of your transportation system rises even slightly. It’s the tyranny of the rocket equation. Tanks for low-density LH2 hurt a lot.

    2) LOX and LH2 are hard to store without a lot of boiloff. LH2 is especially hard, but LOX is no picnic (nor is LCH4, for that matter). Water, on the other hand, is easy. Just-in-time on-orbit production is likely to be a winner in terms of the mass you need to take in terms of insulation and cryocoolers for your on-orbit facility.

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  16. Terra would be uninhabitable long before Sol kerplodes; the oceans will boil off within one or two billion years. Humans will not need to move to another galaxy; just a nearby star system would be sufficient. Barnard’s Star or Proxima Centauri are both nice; small, very long lived, and suitable for stellar husbandry if we ever choose to bother.

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  17. Space advocates will tell you that there is an immense economic reward for being the power which develops space resources; the moon just happens to be big and convenient.

    Imagine for a moment that Zürich burned down; let us hope that nobody was injured, but the entire city is a write off. The damages would be many billions of dollars; the cost to rebuild would be tremendous — billions more. This is exactly the situation space advocates face when talking about establishing space habitats comes up — ‘what good is it’, what does it ‘do’, ‘why bother building it in the first place’? The answer is mostly that it just is; people live, and work, and grow up, and marry, there. Those people do whatever they do, and that makes Zürich (any city or space habitat, really) ‘productive’, valuable.

    A friend of mine is fond of a saying: ‘Land is always a good investment; we are making more people every day, nobody is making more land’ — but that will be the exact industry that will make the first space habitats so valuable: they will build more habitats, more ‘land’, more Zürich. And while the very first habitat will be expensive, costs will go down very quickly because space resources can be conveniently used — which is exactly where the whole ‘moon base’ idea comes in. The moon has lots of resources, it is big and convenient.

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  18. The USA does spend too much on its’ military. How formidable does the military need to be? Powerful enough to win a sustained war vs the most powerful potential foe? The two most powerful, simultaneously? The top five? The USA has far more military than it needs — and that is without accounting for the actual, absolute, ‘golden toilet seat’ waste. Or spending on ‘black programs’, which is entirely concealed from responsible fiduciary oversight.

    Nothing in those preceding statements in any way impugns the courage or integrity of the service members, or the nobility of their choice to serve. But what grounds is there for needing so many?

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  19. I think two hydrolox production facilities & fuel transfers might be seen as one too many. If you already must have a hydrolox facility at the moon base, then the incremental cost and complexity to making it a bit larger (and launching only finished fuel products) might be an easier design than an additional, on-orbit, facility which would require transferring the water in and the fuel products out, and the extra mass needed for separate tankage (or making the tanks safe for both water and cryogenic fuels).

    Also, the typical fuel mix in modern hydrolox engines is hydrogen rich — so cracking water will give a small (but important) excess of oxygen. If the lunar base is manned (and doing things in addition to just fuel production) then that is where the excess O2 needs to stay; flinging that mass up to the orbital facility & then returning it is inefficient.

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  20. Your point about launch costs is unclear; but launching from the Moon is far more favorable than launching from LEO or, far worse, the surface of Terra. Here is a helpful chart: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Delta-Vs_for_inner_Solar_System.svg

    Remember the whole point of a long-term moon base is to make fuel there. Even launching fuel from the surface of the moon to LEO (where the current ISS sits) is much better than any scheme to refuel a LEO craft from the surface of Terra.

    To your second point, the quote you provide is incomplete. Here it is in full: ‘Dig a hole on the moon’s surface, and you have a much better shelter in terms of radiation shielding, and thermal regulation than anything in orbit, short of an asteroid with a hold dug in it.’ I added a bit of emphasis there, because it is very important. The radiation shielding is paramount, and a big advantage over being in orbit. Thermally, a moon base would not be ‘radiating on the surface’ except where that was the most favorable scenario; they could use packed regolith as extra thermal mass to mitigate temperature swings; radiate extra heat into space from the depths of an eternally shadowed crater; or convectively dump heat to the subsurface.

    As to the ‘only thing’ wrong with NASA — there are too many failures to oversimplify like this, but if I had to pick just one to solve it is that Congress treats NASA as a pork-barrel jobs program and ignores the needs of scientists.

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  21. NASA as it is now needs serious reform; to be remodeled along the lines of something like DARPA, I think.

    I don’t buy the whole ‘governments do long-term focus better’ argument; remember the ‘Vision for Space Exploration’? The’Asteroid Retrieval Mission’? The ‘Journey to Mars’? The bickering and funding shenanigans over Commercial Crew? Now it is all about going back to the moon. NASA changes fundamental goals, focuses, and priorities every time the white house gets a new resident & every time they get a new chief administrator. In contrast, SpaceX and Blue Origin have both maintained a drive towards their goal with singular clarity.

    Government agencies are fickle, which is one of the reasons why the DARPA model works so well — they set goals for just a year or two out, work like hell to achieve spectacular results at great risk, then (when each project hits it’s designated ‘drop dead date’) they are finished, pencils down. There is no extended project cycle to turn into a federal jobs program / feeding trough.

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  22. Agreed. And as I’ve said elsewhere, once you’re making hydrolox, it’s not too hard to upgrade to also make methalox for the rockets that need it. It’s even easier to upgrade to making only methalox – less systems duplication. But if we assume some redundancy in the hydrolox plant & depot, then some of those systems can probably be repurposed without duplication. Then you’re just missing the carbon handling systems (including the chemical reactor to convert it to methane).

    Regarding economics, even without a monopoly, there may be a business case there, depending on how it compares with launching everything from Earth. Especially if combined with a tug or several.

    In the longer run, there’s probably room for several players, but the market will need to grow to support them. Except it can’t grow much without that first depot to enable it. Without a depot, everything is planned to not need it. With one, it opens new options. So someone has to take the lead.

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  23. No, we do have quite a good understanding of the life cycle of a star likes ours — and it doesn’t exactly go “kkbooom.”

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  24. You’re basically saying that NASA is inefficient and political–in other words, it’s a government agency. But you still need government agencies to do things that private enterprise wouldn’t do short-term, because they can’t tolerate the risk and the long-term nature of the investment.

    I’m not going to defend SLS and Orion; they’re terrible wastes. But if you got rid of NASA, you simply wouldn’t have economic activity in space. So argue with the programs all you want–I do, too. But you need the institution.

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  25. Even though I’m not much of a fan of LOP-G, you’ve got some stuff wrong here:

    “…because the moon is already a much better space station.”

    Nope, nowhere near as good. The difference is between taking a full-up system, with all of its dry mass, and launching it from the Moon, vs. launching a minimal tanker of water and making hydrolox on-orbit. The former has a much lower mass ratio (initial fueled mass / dry mass) than the latter and, since the delta-v you can achieve is based on the logarithm of the mass ratio, your delta-v per fuel falls off very quickly.

    If you want to argue that you don’t need the gateway, and that you can just launch the water or hydrolox directly to the spacecraft in orbit, I’ll agree with you. But launching full-up missions off the Moon is a terrible idea.

    “…you have a much better shelter in terms of radiation shielding, and thermal regulation than anything in orbit…”

    Radiation, yes. Thermal, no. The only difference between radiating in space and radiating on the surface is that the radiator on the surface starts out warmer, and is less efficient.

    “NASA has not been about exploration, or scientific discovery for a long time.”

    The only thing wrong with NASA is that it’s trying to build a launcher. It still builds excellent scientific spacecraft. Orion… I’d rather not have, but it’s a bit of a special case. And if we plan to go to the Moon, we’ll need a lot of gadgetry that only NASA would be willing to develop.

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  26. In the increasingly unlikely event that SLS and LOP-G actually continue, I think there’s a case to be made for a for-profit entity using modified Moon Direct to make and sell hydrolox.

    Instead of proceeding on to a crewed phase, if the water operation can be deployed robotically, you can make a phase one lander variant with a 50 tonne water tank on it. Land that empty, fill it up with water, and spend 2600 m/s of delta-v to get it to NRHO.

    From there, you can crack the water to hydrolox cheaper on-orbit (because the cost to put solar panels into NRHO is less than to put them on the surface). You still need a small hydrolox production capability on the surface to make the prop to get the water to NRHO, but the bulk of what you’re making works better on-orbit.

    From there, you can drop the stuff into LEO for just-in-time use by stuff going to GEO, or keep it in NRHO for publicly-funded crewed operations to the surface or off into interplanetary trajectories.

    The price tag is a lot less for a system that doesn’t have to be crew-rated. You have one fewer vehicle to develop, and flight safety isn’t an issue. But it’s still going to be a pretty big price tag. The economics will depend on how long such an entity can maintain a monopoly on lunar water. I think it’s pretty easy to get NASA and ESA to leave it alone, but I’m not so sure that the Chinese wouldn’t go after the business, just because there’s a lot of soft power attached to it.

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  27. No-one knows when the ☀ is going to go kkbooom. When it does Mars and Earth will both turn to dust. There goes the human race. We need to go to another galaxy to ensure survival.

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  28. If we don’t establish a self sustaining Mars colony we will in all likelihood render this planet uninhabitable for humans.

    There is an unfathomable amount of money invested in the destruction of our planet. The only way these technologies will be allowed to develop is under the guise of colonizing elsewhere. Otherwise they will be bought up, litigated to death, or just lied and propagandized to death before they have any impact.

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  29. I don’t believe NASA should be eliminated but given a new mission. NASA should get out of the space launch and hardware business and be relegated to a regulatory, administrative and research arm of the FED dealing with space matters. This would free up vast amounts of moneys which can be devoted to privet companies who have leapfrogged NASA’s 60 years of fumbling in just 10 years.

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  30. Great plan… but… it ignores that we don’t really know where the water is or how to get it. The first crews will have to do some serious prospecting and may need to develop new techniques for mining the ice.

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  31. Fatality rates for the human race are, inherently, stuck at 100% in every field of endeavor. The only real question is whether you accomplish anything before you croak.

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  32. …making space the biggest industry in the history of Mankind, at least in the long run… which really is the thing to consider.

    It is easy to be a cynic, and cite that the cost — even though it is coming down substantially thru Musk’s re-use meme — the cost is high, and the returns aren’t necessarily commensurate with that cost.

    But when I sit back, close my eyes, and ask myself the question, “Would I rather the push to space exploitation end, and soon, or that I embrace it going forward?” I find that of course I’d much, much rather see it embraced and going forward.

    After all, it hasn’t been that many years since my youth, when I too repeated the paradigm, “think what the Moon Shot brought to the American and even World economy?” … for it is true. Microelectronics got a HUGE push from the program.

    The only problem I leave to you is … to identify really — in the upcoming near future — what great benefits the Space Program might have? That it, and not computing-in-society delivers, anyway.

    GoatGuy

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  33. Yea, the irony of this is that if NASA, congress and the old Aerospace Co.s would just work with Blue Origin and SpaceX the space budget pie (government and commercial) will become so big that there will be much more than enough for all to eat. In particular, even if we just took $500M from the SLS budget each year and directed it to BFR/Starship development you would do ULA, Lockheed and NASA a huge favor by making space the biggest industry in the history of mankind, at least in the long run. It would become many times larger than it is now in short order. ULA includes Boeing and they are quite capable of competing in a commercial market.

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  34. True, that.

    Thing also is, that when the subsidies leave the market, American companies have an uncanny ability to tighten their belts and finally decide to compete. Watch out SpaceX.

    GoatGuy

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  35. Using Spot.IM:
    Mac / PC
    CMD-B / Alt-B = bold on/off
    CMD-I / Alt-I = italic on/off
    CMD-U / Alt-U = underline on/off

    I too was put off by the <b> thing missing. Thanks for the comment.

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  36. It is doubtful that a plan dominated by Spacex products and driven by Spacex technical capabilities will ever be adopted. At least not within the current structure of NASA and the political and cultural influences it must operate under. The issues are not technical or even solely economical. They are cultural and only time and the realities of a threatening outside source like China or Russia can hasten the process by changing the risk reward proposition.

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  37. These 9 companies selected will be taxied there by Spacex. That’s who they will contract with. They are not dumb. Also they can negotiate better deals with Spacex than NASA.

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  38. Government waste oversight needs to focus on wasted man-hours and not wasted money. Money is just a method to account for man-hours. Every hour an engineer spends focusing on non-usable rocket design means they are committing another person’s man-hours to be wasted rebuilding the rocket (when they could spend their man-hours building something new).

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  39. It is highly unlikely that the SLS will never fly. It is simply reworked Space Shuttle technology, is highly dangerous (much more so that a Falcon Heavy or 9) and is already far behind schedule and billions over budget. Expect billions more in cost overruns. It is no more than crooked cabal exploitation of corruption at NASA and the Pentagon where procurement officers look the other way in return for cushy “executive” with the aerospace biggies. SpaceX does not play that game.

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  40. Government programs are always over budget, poorly planed ,one way decisioned spacex plan sounds far more realistic. For a company who just started out they are set to be first now for launching astronauts to the ISS . Is nasa smelling the coffee yet ! All options should be looked at before decided on one . And forget all the bureaucracy . This idea sounds far realistic !

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  41. Remind me again how much Boeing and Lockheed get in government funding.

    Want to bet their lobbying arm is hard at work with this administration?

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  42. “better than wasting money on the military” Ok, you either have never know war or have forgotten it. That is disrespectful to our service men and women who sacrifice parts of their lives and sometimes the rest of their life so people like you can study and further areas of research like this. The money spent on the military goes to compensating these service members for their sacrifice as well as protecting them and equipping them to protect the us. Please remove or restate that line.

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  43. The only word missing from his statement is “manned.” Remote exploration is much cheaper than manned exploration,.but NASA no longer has the stomach for space exploration involving humans.

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  44. And all while overpaying Boeing and LM billions of dollars for outdated, wasteful rockets and tech. And when Boeing fails to meet it’s contractual obligations…NASA throws a couple hundred million dollars at them as a reward for meeting their contractual obligations…you know..the things they aren’t meeting.

    NASA is there to feed the old aerospace fatcats and to make certain states senators feel important. Every now and then they pay even more for an outdated rocket to throw a probe up, just so the public goes “wow, science is expensive” and doesn’t ask any more questions.

    Unless you can explain to me the despicable waste of money that is the SLS….I’m just going to continue assuming my assessment of the situation is correct.

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  45. Nice article. Hopefully SpaceX Starship Super Heavy SSH will make all this OBE as NASA is about spending money on places it’s execs will work after “NASA retirement” and no one else is going to step up to do what is outlined.

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  46. True. Also, the US has taken the step of recognizing the while space resources are free for use by all mankind, that individual installations and operations are private. Or something similar-ish.

    Edit: Changed out <b> tags for actual bold. Thanks for the tip.

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  47. The funding is not under NASAs control; that is the Senate. Senator Richard Shelby is not to be swayed by reason, nor trivial little things like ‘the good of all humankind’ — he is fixated on grabbing as much pork as possible for his district, and SLS is a means to that end.

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  48. I have a personal favorite vision for the future of private space, the moon, and national prestige missions — can it my personal head canon.

    When the first Chinese Taikonauts bravely take their first pioneering steps onto Luna, they will do so to much fanfare and media hoopla — and then take a short jaunt to a waiting limo. They will be shuttled to the nearby Lunar resort, where they will initially get the red-carpet treatment. ‘We have been holding the Presidential Suite for your arrival, but apparently the People’s Party refuses to pay that much. We can still accommodate you of course; please enjoy some complementary Champagne while we get the billing details hammered out. Please make yourselves comfortable in the meantime. Sorry, but Bob and his family from Idaho are currently using the spa, but our other facilities are at your disposal, and the hotel shop carries swimwear if you would like to try the hot tub.’

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  49. Damn straight! If NASA ever comes to its senses, we would have been on Mars and colonizing it already. Somehow, NASA always filled its positions with a bunch of idiots who can never get much done. That’s the culture of this organization.

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  50. “NASA has not been about exploration, or scientific discovery for a long time.”
    Well now that’s just silly. What, have you been asleep for thirty years? NASA has explored every single planet in the Solar System. In just the last couple of months they launched new probes to the Sun and mercury and landed a new one on Mars. NASA has launched multiple orbiting observatories which have revolutionized astronomy and our understanding of the universe. Astronauts on the space station are continuously conducting ground breaking research.

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  51. Yeah, actually, I am. fatality rates rates in the early English colonies in North America, in the first years, exceeded 100%. The only way to assure no one ever dies in space, is to never fly in space. You OK with that?

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  52. When I saw this headline, I thought it was a SpaceX proposal, then I saw it was just Robert Zubrin. Zubrin has been proposing assorted ideas for expanded manned space exploration for many years. No one with any money has ever taken an interest in them. Zubrin writes articles, and talks at conferences and conventions. He never seeks to develop the kind of political organization that would be necessary to bring any of his ideas about. Today, he might go to private businesses and money sources, Elon Musk would be an obvious good first stop to pitch this idea. Is he doing that? No. This, which is not at all a bad idea, will come to nothing because Zubrin has no idea of how to persuade the people with the purse strings to implement it. Most likely, the return to the Moon will be by SpaceX, in a BFS, some time in the mid part of the next decade, possibly preceded by the Chinese in something more like an Apollo module.

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  53. NASA often changes direction when a new administration takes up residence in the White House. SLS survived the transition to Trump, and by the time Trump leaves too much money will be invested in it to stop them (we’re already at about $14 billion), even if BFR is flying by then. And Congress recently actually found extra money for SLS (the new mobile launch platform).

    The lunar gateway, by comparison, is just an unfunded notion, easily cancelled when Trump’s administration is replaced by the next. Trump and Pence are not that serious about the gateway, other than as a political gesture. It’s still a waste, because some of NASA’s brightest and best are spending their days planning how to make the gateway a reality.

    I’m waiting to see what happens when China lands some people on the moon, and the government realizes that NASA isn’t capable of repeating what it could do in 1969. FH or New Glenn might start to look very attractive in a 21st century space race!

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  54. I think the real block to progress of any kind is the lobbying of private interests that go against the original mission of NASA. Whatever that was.

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  55. 1. NASA is looking more and more irrelevant for human exploration. They should lend their experience to private companies, but focus themselves on robotic science missions, which they excel at.

    2. Even a Lunar mining base doesn’t need to be manned. The Moon is close enough for teleoperation from Earth (some automation would help, but may not even be necessary), and close enough to send a team for repairs when it’s needed.

    3. Regardless, the key for any Lunar plan is the Lunar hardware. That’s still under development, AFAIK. Zubrin’s plan doesn’t really address that, other than offering some hardware concepts. So claiming it can be done in 4 years may be too optimistic.

    4. As I’ve said before, if we’re making hydrolox, it’s not hard to upgrade to making methalox. Most of the equipment is the same. We can bring carbon from Earth until we start asteroid mining. That still lets you get 6.66 times as much fuel for the same mass budget. About 33% more fuel for the same mass budget than if you only make LOX on the Moon and bring methane.

    Also, I wouldn’t make the fuel on the Moon, except for Lunar use (and that too only until we get better options in place). The key is to minimize delivered mass*delta-v, so send the water and carbon to the fuel depots, and make the fuel where it’s needed. I’d say EML2 and LEO are pretty good for most destinations. Even rockets going to the Moon can refuel at EML2 before landing, so they’ll have enough fuel to launch back.

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  56. The Moon can very useful for bootstrapping space industry and infrastructure, and there are enough reasons to do that for humanity’s long term benefit. But I agree that much of it doesn’t need to be manned.

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  57. Yes, we’re entering a golden age of robotic lunar science. Not only China and now India (congratulations to both!), but 9 (!!!) US companies and consortia recently announced their availability to deliver robotic missions to the lunar surface in the near term. Just as delivering satellites to earth orbit has become a commodity business, so lunar delivery will soon become. In the meantime – Godspeed, India and Chandrayaan-2!

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  58. No, Boeing lost the competition to build the Joint Strike Fighter, which became Lockheed’s F-35 instead. Do some basic research before posting, pleasep
    And yes, you’d be amazed at how motivational a suggestion the government might buy some Silent Eagles or a revived Boeing F-32 derivative can be toward reducing F-35 costs. Remember the cut in F-16 prices when Northrop’s F-20 Tigershark hit the market? Competition works.
    Go SpaceX!!!

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  59. “I imagine SpaceX would win most of the bids”. You’re misjudging the viciousness of the bidding process and extreme skill of our aerospace giants in lobbying.

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  60. I think Elon, et. Al. will get a moon base set up well before NASA gets there. They will build the necessary infrastructure including a large “advertising” sign. When NASA finally arrives, SpaceX will be ready to sell them fuel for a “reasonable” price. All problems solved!

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  61. The LEV looks a lot like the LEM, built on Long Island by Grumman. Manufactured 15 of them, none failed. Space Shuttle — built five of which two were lost killing all aboard.

    I honor and respect our NASA, but after Armstrong walked on the moon, our government felt the money would be better spent buying votes.

    So we kept the 30 year old Shuttle to get us 254 miles to the ISS, eventually that wore out and we used Russia. Instead of travelling 238,000 miles to the moon on a LEM (OK LEV).

    50 years since Armstrong took that small step. Embarrassing.

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  62. Trump likes to brag that he called up Boeing and told them their new F-35 was way too expensive, and that he forced them to cut the pricetag.
    If he can do that – or at least if he sees such objectives as boast-worthy – then he can cut the SLS in his same big-boss-man way. He’s guaranteed to earn praise if he does.

    One of the problems is that some of the pro-Trumpers see SpaceX as a parasite geared towards consuming public subsidies. Look, even if some of that is true, the fact is that SpaceX has delivered far more value for the money than established players, to the point of even sparking a renewed interest in space activities from all quarters. So cutting funding to SLS and its affiliated make-work projects to divert it to the “new space” companies should then enable more progress in increasing access to space.

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  63. I was there as well and your characterization is off the mark. There was plenty of public interest in the Apollo missions after 12. The TV networks didn’t have the interest in airing coverage which lacked commercial sponsorship (i.e., $$$). Also, NASA failed horribly at public outreach and engagement—they still do. In contrast, look at all the public interest and speculation and brainstorming SpaceX engenders from its fan base—all because they throw free real-time launch (and landing) coverage to anyone with an Internet connection and Twitter account.

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  64. This entire enterprise is insane. This is the ultimate “been there, done that.” I am older than most readers of this site, so let me say that I can remember that after two lunar landings in Apollo 11 and 12, the networks did not bother to cover 13 live. The public has lost interest after realizing that all there was to be discovered on the Moon was dust and rocks. Apollo 13’s near disaster certainly captured our attention, but for the wrong reasons.
    There is no good reason to go back to the Moon and even fewer reasons to want humans to explore Mars. Send robots.

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  65. Japan, India, South Korea also have interest in the Moon with specific projects planned. And there are others. If there are more players some can specialize in providing launch and others develop other capabilities lowering total costs and speeding up development. That is the idea behind the International Lunar Decade which is intended to provide a framework for international cooperation in the 2020-2030 timeframe. https://ildwg.wordpress.com/ild-at-iac/

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  66. Yes they should focus on nuclear propulsion. Actually something that NASA can do.

    Heck maybe set up Moon Base Atom for testing nuclear rockets.

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  67. Double their budget and they could do it. You’d be surprised what and extra $20 billion per year will buy you even when it means SLS prices.

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  68. Maybe maybe maybe SLS will be cancelled once SpaceX has a fully reusable super heavy lift “Starship” and has launched it a dozen times. Until then it won’t happen.

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  69. The point of the Lunar Gateway isn’t to explore the moon. The entire point is to make a purpose for SLS. SLS has mass to low lunar orbit than F9H so Lunar gateway is something that F9H cannot do and so you must have SLS.

    Stop thinking about “this costs too much, it could be done better” and start thinking in terms of “this justifies the continued development of SLS” and things won’t be right but things will make sense and you will be able to make better predictions.

    The good news is that BO doesn’t need NASA money and SpaceX won’t need their money in a few years so we will have two private companies trying to get tourists to LEO and the Moon.

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  70. If NASA had any semblance of leadership they would axe SLS right now. Falcon heavy has 90% of the performance of Block 1 SLS at 10x less cost.
    They could divert all those billions to the Moon and Mars and get things moving now.
    But they won’t because their goals aren’t scientific. Their goals are to funnel money to specific senators states and military contractors. At that they are successful.
    If anyone else managed projects with 200% cost over runs and 5 year schedule slips they would be fired instantly. At NASA that is normal these days. SLS, JWST, etc.

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  71. NASA’s role in all this is about to change whether they like it or not. SpaceX and probably Blue Origin are proving they have the drive and talent to make things happen, and for pennies on the dollar.
    NASA is neutered by bureaucracy.

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  72. Its not really like the constable … has a gun, or teeth, or a knife.

    You (say) go to Moon and privately set up camp. Like Vasco di Gama, you plant a flag for Mozambique, and say loudly into the headset, “I hereby claim this chunk of Moon to be Ours. God bless the Queen.”

    No one is going to come by and confiscate your plot of Moondust.
    No one is coming.

    And that is the definition of Sovereignty.
    GoatGuy

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  73. NASA should focus on Nuclear propulsion and coordinate designs for the moon and Mars with spaceX for the time being. It has been working on it for awhile, and so are the Russians. We are pretty close and need to make sure that we get there first. If NASA is going to manage that, that will be just as much a contribution as going to Mars and back to the moon.

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  74. “As I have said before trying to change direction in a Gov’t agency ( NASA ) is like trying to turn a super tanker”

    So, it takes a direct order from a major oil company? Or a military strike from a middle eastern power?

    Sounds reasonable. Matches all observable facts…

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  75. Do you think NASA will shift to a SpaceX focused program? Never. I’m more concerned with them attempting to slow private initiatives to land and claim the moon.

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  76. SLS will be dead in two years. Boeing will try and Sue NASA. Space X will get additional Falcon Heavy Funds and will start trips to the moon by 2021. B.F.R. will start working for NASA by 2023-2024 for moon landings eventually replacing all Falcon Heavy missions. The race for moon realistate will start in high gear between China, Russia, and the U.S. by 2030.

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  77. The EU, China, Russia, as well as private companies have expressed their interest in the moon. Here is an opportunity to select a location that meets (most of) the requirements of all potential players. Each of those players might then develop their own independent modules in function of their interests (moon hotel for tourists, extracting minerals, scientific study, etc.. ), but at the same time stay close to each other; being within reach would provide potential for mutual support, sharing of responsibilities and/or resources, backups for in case of emergencies, and the opportunity to trade commodities.

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  78. The lunar gateway space station is idiocy, because the moon is already a much better space station. The moon has water, already near the top of the earth’s gravity well. Dig a hole on the moon’s surface, and you have a much better shelter in terms of radiation shielding, and thermal regulation than anything in orbit, short of an asteroid with a hold dug in it.
    It’s obvious to anyone who’s paying attention. NASA has not been about exploration, or scientific discovery for a long time. It is about feeding the cronies, and congressional committee chiefs. Exploration, and science are just an excuse for keeping NASA around. NASA should be eliminated.
    Exploration, technology development, science, and operations should be done under performance based contract. If there is still something called NASA, it should be a bunch of auditors making sure the contracts are fulfilled, and bidders are qualified, as in they are likely to be able to fulfill the contract.
    I imagine SpaceX would win most of the bids, even if it ran launch services, and other services as separate businesses. I’d guess most other contract winners would be universities, winning science contracts, at least at first.

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  79. As I have said before trying to change direction in a Gov’t agency ( NASA ) is like trying to turn a super tanker’Just think of all the lobbying to get these commitments. It will take a long time to turn that ship around.

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