An engineering student’s Blog

” …All of this. All of this was for nothing – unless we go to the stars.” – Infection, Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski

We should go to Mars – my letter to the Augustine commission

My letter to the Augustine Commission’s subgroup on exploration beyond LEO

Dear Augustine commission and members of the Exploration Beyond LEO subgroup:

We should be a society that exists on more than one planet.  Humanity can determine our own destiny, unlike the vast majority of species that have come and gone on this planet – But we have not yet proven this. We should make Mars our immediate focus and develop the means to go there in an incremental, series of progressive steps that capture the publics interest and maintain it. With major mile stone events in an evolving architecture with Mars firmly established as this generation’s challenge. This and this alone will restore NASA to it’s rightful place in humanities consciousness, as an institution that Inspires.

Mars is the most compelling target for manned space exploration – but a sortie styled unsustainable architecture would be unacceptable. One of NASAs priorities should be to bring the private sector along every step of the way to fill in what NASA can never do alone, and that is levee the creativity and resourcefulness of the most productive nation in the world towards opening up the next frontier and developing space. It would be ashame for NASA not to learn from the greatest error of the Apollo flights, the lack of follow up, the fact that US policy wasn’t to catalyze the amazing capabilities of industry and private human enterprise to tackle the challenge of space flight. The 2nd industrial revolution awaits with untold potential for wealth and economic growth. NASA can begin this by funding more COTS like programs, and integrate these into the path to Mars. So that when the political environment changes with respect to space as it unfortunately and maybe inevitably does, commercial interest can further humanities interest in developing space. NACA did amazing things for commercial aeronautics and developed a real industry that could continue without an overwhelming, unsustainable federal expenditure. This can be done for space. And the US is still in a position to fully exploit this and lead in this emerging industry, an industry that in my humble opinion is still in its infancy with respect to its unbound potential.

Do we want humanity to fight over the scraps of what remains of Earth or do we want to infuse ourselves with the renewed vigor of a challenge worthy of humanities ability to do anything. Transform our world, save it, by giving our society this challenge that unites us, one more time.

I am just a freshman mechanical engineering student and father of a 2 year old boy. I’m in no way an expert with all of the facts in front of me I humbly submit my thoughts to you with a grain of Hope. I’m inspired by people like the Apollo 11 Astronauts, engineers like Robert Zubrin, and space enthusiast like Ross Tierney, to do what I can while I can. More over I’m taking the time to share my thoughts because I believe we have an opportunity for positive change in the course of history at this time. Good luck & may reason guide you hearts and hope steer your minds.

Interesting ideas from more skilled and capable people here:

Now if you were to ask me what some of those first steps beyond LEO should be and how we could achieve them, my best guess would be something like this.

We are in the process of developing a heavy lift capability to go to the moon and enter the first phase of the Vision for Space Exploration.  Continue this.  But the Ares I and V don’t seem to be the best means vs cost, capability and time frame.  I’d have to say the best alternative is the DIRECT shuttle derive launch vehicles the Jupiter130 and Jupiter246, one rocket plus an earth departure upper stage that levees what we already know, the people and skilled labor we already have and the hardware we’ve already characterized and operate.  Modify the EDS to serve as a phase I LEO propellant depot, and contract commercial providers like SpaceX and ULA and our international partners to refuel the depot.  Fund Commercial Orbital Habitat Services, Commercial Orbital Propulsion Services and Commercial Orbital Power Services competitions and leverage NASAs capabilities to integrate these new ventures into a phase I Orbital Transfer Vehicle that can move mass and crew between orbits and to the moon.  Fund a Commercial Orbital Propellant Depot Services competition to develop a better propellant depot based on the EDS technology that you can share with private companies to place a more capable PD at EML-2 and SEL-2 and investigate human NEO and Phobos missions.

I imagine you can throw an inflatable transHab module from Bigelow Aerospace a solar electric power system and VASIMR propulsion system from AdAstra Rocket into orbit on a series of SpaceX Falcon9 heavy rockets within 5-10 years as a means to get Astronauts back and forth between the Earth and the moon.  While NASA begins its moon missions based on the Altair/Orion baseline.  Once the technology for the Orbital transfer Vehicles are fully vetted NASA may want to switch to a Commercial Orbital Transfer Services program and use the program savings from utilizing lower cost commercial providers to perform its current operations to develope the technology to spear head the next step.  This will involve more commercial competitions to evolve the OTVs into a phase II Interplanetary Transfer Vehicle from witch NASA can contract for missions to NEOs and Phobos.  All of thise while NASA works the most difficult, long poll, development item.  The Mars EDL system for landing heavier loads on the martian surface.

Thru this entire development process you’ve involved the private sector more and catalyzed new economic growth and capability towards space exploration and development.  While at the same time the incremental process has allowed opportunities to capture the publics attention with milestone flights, landing and events – critical for continued political support and funding.

One of my favorite quotes, “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” – Robert H. Goddard

Respectfully and hopefully yours
Eric Rivera


Filed under: Mars, Science, Space

One Response

  1. Charles A. Gardner, Ph.D. says:

    My letter to the Commission:

    Ideal goal for US investment in human space flight: sustainability, not rocks

    The goal to put men and woman on the Moon and Mars seems to be based more on the influence of B-movies and pulp fiction than on logic and practicality. As with Martin Frobisher’s ill-fated expeditions to arctic Labrador in the 16th Century (where his men battled icebergs in July to collect tons of black rock said to contain gold), we will journey to an extraordinarily inhospitable place, collect rocks, return, and — I fear — lose interest once again. A more logical goal for the President to announce would be to make our presence in space sustainable. Period.

    Let our engineers, entrepreneurs and various industries figure out how to do that via space-based solar power, mining the asteroids, helium-3 from the Moon, or some as-yet unimagined option. A National Strategy for Human Space Flight focusing on sustainability would require NASA to collaborate beyond its usual partners in the aerospace industry. It would need to reach out to the energy and mining industries, build a portfolio of competitive projects with business plans and a vision for sustainability, energize America’s entrepreneurs and engineers to dream new dreams, and then go where the most practical and pragmatic of those dreams takes us. Which may not be Mars.

    Going to Mars for the sake of going will not galvanize industry or the taxpayers. And it is, ultimately, a misguided goal based on ancient biological and modern fictional biases. Our ancestors evolved on the surface of a planet, so we are preconditioned to think that is where we should go. Our vision is further blurred by a Century of science fiction fantasies, a vision of the future that almost always takes place on other planets or their moons.

    Going to Mars will require incremental innovation and an enormous expenditure of treasure and effort to rise up out of one deep gravity well only to fall down into another — with little to show for it that could not have been accomplished by robotic probes. In contrast, building a human presence in space that is economically and physically sustainable will require breakthrough innovations that may benefit all of us here on Earth. Whatever ultimately makes our presence there economically sustainable will, by definition, have value. New technologies to recycle air, water, food and waste may also benefit a crowded and polluted Earth.

    Frobisher’s three disastrous journeys discouraged private and royal investors from underwriting further expeditions and colonies. None of those early investors ever imagined the thing that would ultimately make a human presence in the New World economically sustainable: tobacco. Ideally, a sustainable human presence in space will not be based on an addictive drug, but it may well be just as unexpected. It may involve Mars or the Moon, or near Earth asteroids, or the construction of solar power stations or something else entirely, but it is neither logical nor pragmatic for policy makers to decide among those choices until the evidence is in.

    In the long term, making human beings physically and economically independent of Earth is the only goal that reasonable world leaders could endorse, particularly in times of global financial crisis. It might even induce the spacefaring nations to join hands in international collaboration to solve real-world problems. Finally, my sense of this President is that he has real respect for the use of evidence to inform policy. The goal of sustainability, and the ways we might imagine to achieve that, are at least as ambitious as going to Mars. The Committee would do well to recommend an evidence-based approach to sustainability over another one-off flight of fancy.

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