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Op-Ed | Time to go back to the moon, to truly stay
by Rand Simberg — May 24, 2019

More than a year before John F. Kennedy's landmark moon speech at Rice University, the 35th president stood before the U.S. Congress on May 25, 1961, and set an end-of-the-decade goal for landing a man on the moon. Credit: Robert Knudsen via JFK Presidential Library and Museum

In responding to the president’s desire to return Americans to the moon within his planned term of office, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine faces several challenges, perhaps insurmountable ones. Ignoring the political and budgetary constraints under which he must plan such a technical accomplishment, he is hampered by tired thinking going back to Apollo.

Fifty-eight years ago, almost to the day, President Kennedy declared what was, at the time, a bold national goal: To send a man to the moon within a decade, and “return him safely to Earth.” The greatest challenge of Apollo was not the former, but the latter.

Simply getting someone to the moon was relatively easy, even then: Launch a rocket with a crew and a lander, and land the latter on the lunar surface. It could be done with a much smaller rocket than the Saturn V.

But in order to return, another vehicle would be required to first get back into orbit, and then additional propellant to get it all the way back to Earth, and that vehicle would have to be capable of entry into the atmosphere and recovery on the planet’s surface. As it turned out, two more vehicles were deployed: A lunar ascent stage, and a capsule for recovery into the atmosphere. Because we had too little experience with space assembly, all this additional hardware, and the propellant needed to get it all the way there and back, had to be launched in a single flight from Florida. The capsule with its precious human cargo that sat on top of the huge Saturn V launcher, is all that came back from the moon.

While Kennedy’s goal was achieved, the science we got from the six lunar missions was limited by the necessarily short mission durations on the lunar surface. In particular, we continue to have no data on the long-term effects of partial gravity, including the ability to conceive and gestate healthy offspring of even rodents, let alone primates, including humans, knowledge critical to understanding the ability of humanity to thrive on the moon.

In the planning of the return to the moon, we seem to be attempting to simply repeat Apollo: Send a man (and woman) to the moon, and return them safely to Earth. But suppose we eliminate the latter requirement, at least initially?

If we don’t need to bring them back immediately, the 2024 mission gets much simpler, and affordable: Build a habitat capable of being resupplied, and land it on the moon. Then, after verifying that it’s functional, send its first crew. We know how to build space habitats from ISS experience, and lunar habitats are easier, because they have some gravity to work with. All the necessary major hardware that would be new is a lander. A few weeks in Washington, Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world and founder of the space company Blue Origin, unveiled a mock-up of one they plan to build. There is no reason to think that, given adequate funding (and it would surely be much less than one developed by NASA under a traditional cost-plus contract), it couldn’t be ready and tested in four years (and would be required even with a planned return, though the requirements might be different).

With no immediate need for lunar ascent, the mission could be done with existing launchers, such as the Falcon Heavy.

When would the crew return? Whenever we have developed the means for them to do so, an activity that could be done in parallel, but without the 2024 urgency. In the meantime, over months, or perhaps a year or three, they will be able to engage in long-term exploration of the moon and research into the effects of partial gravity, perhaps taking some rats along to attempt breeding. If they had the capability to do EVA (something necessary for proper exploration in any event), resupplying them indefinitely would be straightforward, with occasional deliveries of food, water, clothing, and lithium hydroxide to scrub the habitat atmosphere, just as we do with the CRS deliveries to ISS. It would be the very definition of “sustainable.”

In fact, the marginal cost of such a mission might be sufficiently low as to allow multiple habitats and crews in different locations, with regular crew rotations once a round-trip system has been developed over the next couple of years. And each base could grow as well with the delivery of additional habitats, allowing volume for experiments in lunar agriculture and perhaps aquaculture.

Is the plan risky? Of course it is. If there was a medical, or other emergency, there would be no immediate way to evacuate the crew. But for decades, we have accepted this risk at Amundsen/Scott Station, with no ability to evacuate researchers through the austral winter.

No frontier is opened without risk, and the space frontier is the harshest one humanity has ever faced. But with the acceptance of risk can come great reward, and the reward here is serious lunar research, within half a decade, far beyond the limited expeditions of half a century ago. Does anyone doubt that there are researchers, within or outside of the NASA astronaut office, willing to accept that risk? If so, perhaps we haven’t been doing a good job of selecting astronauts, but I don’t believe that is the case.

For decades, with each failed programmatic attempt at a lunar return, from President George H. W. Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative, to his son’s Vision for Space Exploration, the ostensible goal has been to “return to the moon, this time to stay.” Yet somehow, rather than being bold, the plans always start with a repeat of what we did in the 1960s.

It is now the 21stcentury. The best way to assure that when we go “back to the moon, this time to stay,” is to stay. Let us get on with it.

Rand Simberg is the author of “Safe Is Not an Option: Overcoming the Futile Obsession with ‘Getting Everyone Back Alive’ That Is Killing Our Expansion into Space.”


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Odp: [SN] Op-Ed | Time to go back to the moon, to truly stay
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Lipiec 31, 2019, 23:54 »
Op-ed | What will be different next time we go to the moon
by Tom Zelibor — July 17, 2019
This op-ed originally appeared in the July 16, 2019 special Apollo 11 at 50 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Final systems checkout for NASA's Lunar Module (LM-5) are conducted in the Open Bay Area of the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building. Credit: NASA Kennedy Space Center

America is returning to the moon. In May, NASA announced the Artemis program, which sets an aggressive timeline for placing astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024. Half a century after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first “small steps,” we’re going back with all the wonders of 21st century technology, but this time, things will be different.

Thinking back to July 1969 when I was a teenager in Dayton, Ohio, I recall a summer of inspiration. Apollo 11 expressed clearly that when people come together to work on a common goal, it is not only achievable—it is transformational.

In watching the fuzzy, black and white images on the TV screen in my parent’s living room, it was easy to see myself reflected in the adventure. Growing up, the astronauts that traveled to space looked like me, and the people who powered and guided those missions looked like my dad and so many other fathers in my neighborhood. That is, the first astronauts on the moon and many of the people who sent them there were Caucasian and male.

With that, not everyone saw themselves reflected in space exploration the way I did. And that is where the new Artemis program can do something Apollo did not.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has already committed that an American woman will be among the Artemis astronauts. That commitment to diversity is more than overdue, and it is one example of how this moon program can be an even greater source of inspiration and collaboration than Apollo. But there is another reason to insist on inclusivity in this modern moon program. Even with all of today’s breakthrough technology, this time going to the moon will be a group marathon, and not the singular sprint of generations before.

We’re already seeing the first steps of this methodical mindset coming together. The Lunar Gateway, along with all of the proposed step-by-step support missions and technology demonstrations are defining the first miles of this marathon. This lunar trek will also have a much wider array of domestic, international, government and commercial providers that can make every stride along the way possible. While some may question and deservedly challenge having such a distributed network of contributors, the dividends of job creation, technology transfer, expanded entrepreneurship, international partnerships, shared research and development, and more create wider opportunity than any other effort on the planet.

Want proof?

Fifty years ago, there were two nations competing in space for the first landing on the moon. While doing that, both countries were pioneering technologies to give themselves whatever strategic and competitive advantages they could.

A NASA artist’s concept of a lunar ascent vehicle for the U.S. space agency’s Artemis effort to return astronauts to the moon by 2024. Credit: NASA illustration

Fifty years later there are 75 nations with spacecraft in continual operations above us that connect every continent, infrastructure and piece of our national and international security, and economy.

You don’t have to be a military tactician to know that higher ground always gives greater opportunity.

For as much as the 50th anniversary of Apollo celebrations will focus on the men that went to space, every member of those legendary crews would tell you, no one reaches space alone. Apollo demanded thousands of minds, millions of hours of work, and billions of dollars in investment. Artemis will require even more of the same, but it will distribute those burdens and opportunities among a far larger and more capable pool of talent than anything Apollo ever possessed or imagined.

When you structure complex endeavors in this way, it creates broad ownership and deeper commitment to the larger vision and mission. Success in space requires all of the available and assembled talents we can muster and creates a broader and diverse group of full-fledged shareholders. When those shareholders see themselves reflected in a program like Artemis, ownership takes hold with stronger, deeper and more endurable roots.

Those roots not only strengthen our reach for exploration “out there,” but nourish life and create impact here on Earth where the rewards and return on investments are needed most. Today, any visit to our grocery stores or doctors’ offices; or use of our computers and communications devices, was touched by Apollo.

We should never forget that the rewarding dividend of 50 years ago was cut by two competing giants. Just imagine what a wider and more collaborative effort across countries and companies as vested partners can yield.

There is no doubt that Apollo was an unparalleled success, but that urgent sprint to the moon did not nurture the intellectual and technical roots needed to convert lunar landings into a sustainable presence. Today’s more multidimensional effort—with more diverse people, providers, companies, countries and approaches—can create a real, enduring human presence beyond Earth while improving lives back on it.

We proved that with Apollo and continue to demonstrate it today on the International Space Station. In the coming years, we will showcase those benefits again when we go back to the moon while pursuing our ultimate objective – putting humans on Mars and beyond.

Neil and Buzz’s small steps and giant leaps of 50 years ago certainly opened the door for humanity beyond Earth, but it is Artemis that will afford us an even more rewarding journey for generations to come.

Tom Zelibor is chief executive officer of the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


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Odp: [SN] Op-Ed | Time to go back to the moon, to truly stay
« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Sierpień 03, 2019, 07:30 »
How NASA’s return to the moon will be different from its first journeys there
by Jeff Foust — August 2, 2019
This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

NASA’s renewed effort to return humans to the moon draws inescapable parallels to Apollo a half-century ago. Credit: NASA

On two July mornings nearly 50 years apart, a capsule stood atop a rocket, ready for NASA’s next step in sending humans to the moon. In July of 1969, the capsule was the Apollo 11 spacecraft atop its Saturn V rocket at Launch Complex 39A, ready to send Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their historic mission to the moon.

In July of 2019 it was a little different. The capsule was an Orion spacecraft — or, rather, a boilerplate version of the spacecraft with the same mass and dimensions but without all the internal systems of that next-generation crewed spacecraft. The rocket it was on was not the Saturn V or even the Space Launch System, but instead a refurbished Peacekeeper rocket motor, set up at Launch Complex 46, several kilometers down the coast from LC-39A.

The rocket would not send Orion to the moon, but instead to an altitude of about 10 kilometers, high enough and fast enough to test Orion’s launch abort system in conditions like those it would experience during a full-fledged SLS launch of the spacecraft. The test, called Ascent Abort 2 (AA-2), was a key milestone toward a first crewed flight of Orion, now expected for 2022.

It also, though, hearkened back to Apollo. During the Apollo program five Little Joe 2 rockets launched Apollo boilerplate spacecraft to test that spacecraft’s launch abort system, much like the AA-2 test more than 50 years later.

NASA conducted its one and only in-flight test of Orion’s abort system July 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: NASA Kennedy Space Center

“They’re very similar,” said Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion program manager, comparing AA-2 to the Little Joe 2 tests at a press conference the day before the test. One difference, he noted, is that Orion’s launch abort system has an attitude control motor that the one for Apollo lacked, giving more control over the orientation of the module after it escaped from the rocket.

Another difference is that Apollo performed five in-flight tests of the abort system, while AA-2 was the only one NASA planned to carry out for Orion. “We’re building on the work they did” in Apollo, Kirasich said of that difference. That experience, he said, showed that they needed to perform only two tests of the escape system: the in-flight abort test of AA-2 and a pad abort test that NASA performed in 2010.

Technology has also improved. “The tools that we have available to us are much better,” he said, such as computational fluid dynamics modeling of the system. “We take all of those things into account, and that’s how we decided two is the right number.


NASA’s renewed effort to return humans to the moon draws inescapable parallels to Apollo a half-century ago. The Orion abort test is just one example of how NASA is drawing upon the experience of Apollo, but also modifying it to account for changes in technology, and in budgets, for Artemis.

In some cases, NASA is literally building upon Apollo. Facilities at the Kennedy Space Center built for Apollo, like Launch Complex 39B and the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), are still in use today, and will be the places where the vehicles that send humans back to the moon under the Artemis program are assembled and launched.

“We are leveraging 60 years of experience and investment to help NASA launch the next 40-year program, and that is what we are expecting Artemis to be,” said Lorna Kenna, vice president and deputy general manager of Jacobs Space Operations Group, a contractor working on that infrastructure at KSC.

Jacobs has been working with NASA to upgrade many of those Apollo-era facilities. “From the outside, a lot of the facilities at Kennedy may look the same,” she said, “but inside, a lot has changed.” Computer-controlled systems have replaced manual valves and switches, and new platforms in the VAB are in place to support processing of the SLS. The Apollo-era crawler-transporter, which carries the mobile launch platform from the VAB to the launch pad, has also been upgraded.

While Artemis may launch on the foundations of Apollo, both NASA and industry acknowledge that many other aspects of Artemis will be very different. The urgency of the original race to the moon allowed NASA to rapidly acquire what it needed to achieve President Kennedy’s goal of a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

A case in point was the lunar module, or LEM. “In 1962, 11 firms were invited to submit proposals for the LEM. Nine companies responded in September of that year,” recalled Jeff Foote, vice president of NASA programs at Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. “Grumman Aircraft was awarded the contract two months later.”

No one expects NASA to return to that pace of contracting for Artemis, but those companies already involved in the program are hoping to at least secure sustained funding. “In addition to the total amount, the phasing of this is important,” said Tony Antonelli, mission director at Lockheed Martin for the second flight of the Orion, now called Artemis-2.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has sent mixed signals on his support of NASA’s moon plans, speaks with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, right, on July 19 at the White House. Credit: White House Twitter

Funding of Orion and SLS has not followed an optimal profile, rising up to a peak before tailing off as development wraps up. Instead, funding has been relatively flat for both. “We didn’t follow the optimum funding phasing profile through development, so it took us longer and probably cost more to get to here,” he said. “But we’re here now, so we can get to this production phase.”

There’s also the question of how much Artemis will cost. During at least the early phases of the Apollo program, Congress provided NASA with a blank check as it developed the launch vehicles, spacecraft and other infrastructure needed. A recent study by The Planetary Society estimates that Apollo, in 2019 dollars, cost $288 billion.

That sort of money isn’t forthcoming for Artemis. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made headlines in June when he told CNN he estimated that Artemis would cost $20 billion to $30 billion on top of the agency’s existing budgets through 2024, although the agency hasn’t provided more details about that estimate since then.

Industry sees that cost estimate as a reasonable one. Frank Slazer, vice president for strategy and business development at Aerojet Rocketdyne, noted that the one key element of Artemis not included in those earlier budget projections is a lunar lander. “The lunar lander, if you go back to the Apollo era, was about $30 billion” in 2019 dollars, he said, an estimate supported by The Planetary Society’s analysis. “So that’s probably about right if you want to think about developing a lander capability.”


Bridenstine, in a July 12 interview on C-SPAN, suggested the additional cost of Artemis could be less than $20 billion, thanks to contributions from commercial partners that he says would be willing to invest their own money because they see other applications of the landers and other systems developed for Artemis.

“What we’re learning is that there are other people that want to contribute to this,” he said. “They want to invest their own money. Why? Because they want customers that are not NASA. If they have customers that are not NASA, it drives down our costs.”

Bridenstine is well aware of the historical weight of Apollo, but doesn’t feel driven to follow precisely in its footsteps. Bridenstine, born in 1975, often notes he is the first NASA administrator not to have been alive when Apollo astronauts walked on the moon.

“We’re learning from Apollo what not to do,” he said. “The challenge with Apollo is that it ended. It was not sustainable because the costs were too high.” That’s a key reason, he said, he’s looking for greater commercial roles in Artemis.

An example of that desire for commercial partnerships is how the agency plans to procure a lunar lander. On July 19 — the day before the 50th anniversary of the Eagle landing on the moon — NASA issued a draft solicitation for what it calls a Human Landing System Integrated Lander. That will support development of an initial lander for the 2024 mission and a more advanced lander, capable of carrying more astronauts for longer stays, two years later.

NASA expects to pursue development of the integrated landers through a public-private partnership approach, which the agency says in the draft solicitation is “part of creating a sustainable lunar exploration program.” NASA also doesn’t plan to take ownership of the lander or landers it ultimately procures, instead procuring landing services from the company providing the lander.

NASA requires that companies proposing landers contribute at least 10% of the total cost of the system. Two days before NASA released the draft, Bridenstine told senators that some unidentified companies had offered to contribute 30% or more of the lander’s costs because of the non-NASA applications they see for it.

In another departure from Apollo, that initial solicitation will lead to multiple initial awards with NASA ultimately selecting two companies to proceed with full-fledged lander development. “That mitigates risk,” he said, “because if something goes wrong with one, the others go forward, and we can stay on schedule.”


Unlike Apollo, which had the primary goal of getting humans to the moon before the Soviets, Artemis is a means to a greater end, Bridenstine argued. “We need to keep our eyes on the horizon goal. The goal is not the moon. The goal is, in fact, Mars,” he said in the C-SPAN interview.

NASA has, in the last month, made a greater effort to emphasize Mars, particularly after President Trump tweeted that NASA “should NOT be talking about going to the Moon – We did that 50 years ago.” Bridenstine, in the interview, noted he had talked to the president since that tweet to reaffirm that NASA’s long-term goal was Mars, with the moon as a “waypoint” toward that goal.

“He said very clearly, ‘I know you’ve got to go to the moon to get to Mars, but talk about Mars,’” Bridenstine said of his conversation with Trump. “We are going to continue talking about why we’re going to the moon. It’s the proving ground for the mission to Mars.”

The president, though, is still thinking about skipping the moon. “To get to Mars, you have to land on the moon, they say. Any way of going directly without landing on the moon? Is that a possibility?” he asked at a July 19 Oval Office event to mark the Apollo 11 anniversary.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine testifying July 17 at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on U.S. moon and Mars exploration plans. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bridenstine and Vice President Mike Pence made the case for the current program, explaining how the moon will be a proving ground for those later Mars missions. But the two Apollo 11 astronauts in the room disagreed. “Mars direct,” Michael Collins said, while Buzz Aldrin said he was “a little disappointed in the last 10 to 15 years” and criticized the performance of the SLS and Orion.

“Well, I’d like to have you also listen to the other side because some people would like to do it a different way,” Trump eventually told Bridenstine after the NASA administrator explained why the agency was going back to the moon before Mars. “I would like to hear the other side also. Right?”

Assuming NASA’s current plans survive presidential prevarications, Bridenstine believes going back to the moon, and on to Mars, will have the same kind of impact on society as the Apollo 11 landing 50 years ago had worldwide. “When we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo,” he said on C-SPAN, “the whole world is watching all of this programming with us, celebrating with us, and this shapes the perceptions of people all over the world toward the United States of America in a very positive way.”

As Bridenstine spoke, engineers were studying the data collected during the AA-2 abort test 10 days earlier. An initial look at the data indicated that the launch abort system performed as planned, pulling the Orion away from its booster as expected, like its predecessor systems did in similar tests a more than 50 years earlier for Apollo.

That successful test brings NASA one step closer to returning humans to the moon. “The next big check mark is the moon,” Kirasich said.


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Odp: [SN] Op-Ed | Time to go back to the moon, to truly stay
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