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