Lost in Space or Thrown Away? – Revisiting the 2009 Augustine Committee Report

The 2009 Augustine Committee -- did Chiao let the cat out of the bag?

The 2009 Augustine Committee — did Chiao let the cat out of the bag?

Lost in Space 2016,” a public forum held recently in Houston at the Baker Institute of Rice University, was enlightening, although perhaps not in the sense the organizers intended. Seven space policy experts were invited to come and share their opinion of the state of America’s civil space program. During the panel discussion, one of the participants casually shared an insight that I believe has not been revealed previously.

Space writer Eric Berger, who attended the event, reported that former astronaut and member of the 2009 Augustine committee Leroy Chiao said the following:

“The Constellation program, frankly, had a lot of funding problems and some pretty serious technical problems. You know it probably was the right thing to do to cancel it. But it didn’t mean we should not go to the Moon. …. It came down to us on the committee to not talk too much about the Moon, because there was no way this administration was going to go there, because it was W’s program. OK, that’s a pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon. I’m hopeful with this election cycle that maybe the Moon will be a possibility again.”

Leroy Chiao’s description of the Augustine committee deliberations is quite striking, so let us examine its various components.

The Constellation Program was how NASA chose to implement President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). Indeed, Constellation had both funding and technical problems, but nothing that couldn’t have been resolved. There was the question about the announced schedule for lunar return, which the agency had claimed would include human missions to the Moon by 2020. In particular, I remember that the Augustine committee was concerned that the first missions to the lunar surface had slipped to the unimaginably distant date of 2025. The committee even suggested that an additional $3 billion per year would “fix” what was being described as an appalling schedule problem. Seven years on, such criticism of the program schedule is ironic, to say the least.

Most of the “serious technical problems” of Constellation were actually funding problems. The Ares I crew launch vehicle was experiencing a minor issue with thrust oscillation (and there were design objections to the whole idea of Ares I) but that, and other issues could well have been mitigated. Work had barely started on Orion and Altair – the command and lunar modules of the Constellation system, so their problems were almost entirely fiscal rather than technical. Options were presented to the Augustine committee (e.g., the presentation by NASA Johnson Space Center’s John Shannon and the Human Exploration Framework Team) that would have fixed the alleged problems of Constellation, and without an increase in yearly spending. These proposals were not simply refused – they were just flat ignored in the final report.

The attitude of the Augustine committee to the HEFT proposal to fix Constellation puzzled many of us who were involved in planning the original VSE. Given that the chosen path back to the Moon could have been modified to avoid or correct the real and perceived problems of Constellation, why cancel the whole effort instead of adopting the fixes? Now we know why – because “it came down” to the committee during deliberations not to discuss the benefits of going to the Moon. Chiao’s use of the phrase “came down” to describe the discussion environment, clearly indicates that the committee was instructed by those who commissioned it (the Obama administration) to not conclude that going to the Moon was valuable, nor was it to consider or advocate the offered technical fixes to the VSE lunar return architecture.

Supporters of the current direction would probably argue that even if all of these statements are true, the bulk of the Augustine report is solid and that both its technical analysis and recommendations are impeccable. In fact, Chiao’s comments prove the exact opposite. His statement that during the committee’s deliberations, “it came down” to not “talk too much” about the Moon, discloses that the committee’s conclusions were pre-ordained. Left unsaid are such pertinent facts as the Who and the How represented in this directive, but clearly, as members of the committee felt compelled to obey it (even possibly against their better judgment), such direction must have had considerable administrative weight.

If the Moon was a priori taken off the table, then the report is not the objective technical analysis claimed by its sponsors, but rather a blatantly political document designed to justify in retrospect a decision undertaken entirely for political reasons. This decision continues to cause great turmoil – the loss of a national capability and the predictable costs to the civil space program that comes from a crippling disruption. Significantly, the retirement of the Space Shuttle program (a key milestone of the VSE) proceeded apace, leaving the nation with no national means to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Chiao shared with “Lost in Space 2016” that cancelling lunar return because it was “W’s program” (i.e., an idea conceived and advocated by the previous administration) is a “pretty stupid reason not to go to the Moon.” People have all kinds of reasons to not want to go to the Moon, but politics is now and always has been part of the equation in considerations of national space policy. Some segments of both political parties have always had a problem with the human spaceflight program, believing that it is federal money poorly spent. They would rather spread that money around to their political supporters through various alternative programs. So I am not surprised by this rationale.

However, it’s not clear to me that either of the current candidates for President are inclined to re-instate lunar return as a goal for America’s civil space program, nor is it clear that they favor the current Program of Record. Human spaceflight simply is not a political issue in this Presidential election, just as it has never been an issue in Presidential elections. (Arguably, the debate about the alleged “missile gap” in the Kennedy-Nixon race in 1960 was about space, but that occurred before human spaceflight existed and was in reality a debate about our national defense posture. Moreover, as a campaign issue, it was completely bogus – the Eisenhower administration knew that there wasn’t a “missile gap” but decided to say nothing so as not to give away our national intelligence gathering capabilities.)

Chiao’s disclosure does raise a significant issue about the “expert” advice sought and given on national scientific and technical issues. There is a tendency (or is it a hope?) in the media and the public to believe that the pronouncement of technical experts on questions of import should be accepted at face value because, after all, “these people know of what they speak.” Chiao’s revelation puts the lie to such wholesome ideals. Commissions and studies, and panels of experts can only answer the questions they are asked, and sometimes these questions are framed in a way to project what answers are expected in response. Of course, even when these committees deal with alternatives in a straightforward manner, their conclusions can always be torqued in desired directions. One might reflect on these facts in regard to other “scientific” advice the federal government solicits and receives on a variety of scientific and technical topics of public interest, such as energy policy and climate change.

Although I can’t describe this revelation as gratifying because of the damage it’s caused, it is good to see a member of the Augustine committee confirm what many of us in the space community had long suspected, but could not prove – that the decision to terminate NASA’s human lunar return was not driven by technical or programmatic considerations, but rather by base and petulant political calculation and desire. It is unfortunate that it took so long for a member of the Augustine committee to publicly share this information. This knowledge would have been valuable to those members of Congress who were trying to save the VSE in the critical budget years of 2010 and 2011. If these facts had come to light then, we might have had a more positive resolution of the conflict. Now, as some of us predicted at the time, our human spaceflight program has been decimated and we are left with NASA’s Potemkin Village-like “#JourneytoMars” and the science-fiction fantasies of Elon Musk.

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47 Responses to Lost in Space or Thrown Away? – Revisiting the 2009 Augustine Committee Report

  1. Joe says:

    “Options were presented to the Augustine committee (e.g., the presentation by NASA Johnson Space Center’s John Shannon and the Human Exploration Framework Team) that would have fixed the alleged problems of Constellation, and without an increase in yearly spending. These proposals were not simply refused – they were just flat ignored in the final report.”

    That was the thing that confused (which could be read as angered) many at the time. Now (thanks to Chiao) we know why.

    Sure would have been nice if some member(s) of the commission had the personal integrity to say that they had been told (at a minimum) what conclusions they could not reach.

  2. Ben says:

    I find it deeply disappointing (if not necessarily surprising) that NASA’s manned space program was derailed due to politics.

  3. Grand Lunar says:

    Fascinating insights.

    I wondered about the possible solutions to Constellation’s problems.
    Nice to see that the side-mount launcher was one. Seemed a rather good idea the first time I heard about it.
    One can only imagine if we had gone with it….

    – “Now, as some of us predicted at the time, our human spaceflight program has been decimated and we are left with NASA’s Potemkin Village-like “#JourneytoMars” and the science-fiction fantasies of Elon Musk.”

    I see the latter as the big issue.
    People continue to praise the recent presentations of the ITS as if it is a certainty.
    The stories about it are splattered over much of cyberspace these days.
    Willing to be that Musk is counting on making people forget about SpaceX’s shortcomings.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    What has always irked me is someone like the President makes a brief statement but very general. This makes it subject to various interpretations by various experts (and each has their own personal agendas and biases) that is discussed for months and months. We never get response from the originator, “what a minute you guys, that is not what I meant.”

    Then there are many other factors all of us outside a handful of people are unaware, excellent example of the “missile gap” but Eisenhower said nothing because U2 and Corona programs were providing good images of Soviet installations. I always wondered what kind of stuff is going on right now. But then it took many of us several decades to understand that Apollo was not about space but about projection of power. Does this mean it will take us 30 or 40 years to fully understand why we really tossed the Shuttle? I heard there was the Shawcross proposal to no longer fly Shuttle after Columbia crash, splash the ISS, which can cut NASA budget in half and then have NASA focus just on technology development. However, that would not look good politically and undermine international partnerships on the space station.

    We have Elon Musk with his MCT, his company is building hardware (he also has possession of Pad39A). Are these are real goals? Can it scale up? Howard Hughes had grand visions with TWA and the H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose.” The big flying boat never went into production, TWA almost died if not for creative accounting by his accountant.

  5. Early on, I thought it was pretty apparent, and rather shocking, that the Augustine committee seemed intent on promoting a continuation of the ISS program at the expense of the lunar program.

    My problems with the Constellation program at the time was with the Ares I solid rocket component of the architecture that delayed the development of a heavy lift vehicle.

    But there really appeared to be no problems with funding the Constellation program since the $3.4 billion a year was already being spent on the Constellation program in 2009 with additional funding coming in the near future from the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle program (~$3 billion a year) and the ISS program (~$2 billion a year at that time). $8.4 billion a year would have been plenty of money for NASA to return to the Moon before the end of the decade– no matter how bad the Ares I/V architecture was! NASA’s only spending about $4 billion a year for the SLS/Orion architecture.

    By the way, Hillary Clinton’s science advisor, Neal Lane, apparently favors returning to the Moon:


    Hopefully, the next administration will see the technological and economic advantages of using the SLS and private launch vehicles in combination with propellant producing water depots in order to take full advantage of lunar ice resources.


  6. James says:

    Thank you Paul Spudis!

    Great writing!

    • James says:


      “The LM-5, which will fly this year, can carry up to 25 tons in payload to low earth orbit. But the LM-9, nearly six times as large and twice as tall, can boost 140 tons, enough for a single launch to carry a multiple person lunar landing team.”

      “Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the manned space program, announced that China would land a man on the moon in the next 15-20 years. Chinese authorities also announced their intention to launch a robotic Mars mission in 2020, complete with orbiter, lander and rover, along with a possible Martian soil sample return by 2030.”

      From: ‘China Aims for Humanity’s Return to the Moon in the 2030s It’s Official’
      By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer May 5, 2016
      At: http://www.popsci.com/china-aims-for-humanitys-return-to-moon-in-2030s

      How long will NASA’s leadership remain Lost in Space?

  7. Andrew Swallow says:

    One of the big problems with returning to the Moon was life support. Do we now have ECLSS suitable for landers, Moon base and/or rovers at say the TRL 4-5 level?

    • Paul Spudis says:

      That was never a “big problem” with life support on the Moon. You are under more pressure to close the life support loop in free space (where nothing can be replaced) than you are on a planetary surface (where the air and water loops need only be partly closed, as you have a local source).

      • Andrew Swallow says:

        Life support does not have to be closed but does have to be reliable. A MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) in months or years. Far greater than the ISS’s ECLSS.

        • Paul Spudis says:

          Tell that to the Mars guys. On their mission, if you can’t repair the system, you’re dead. On the Moon, you can ship up replacement parts within a week or bring the crew home in a few days.

          • Andrew Swallow says:

            I do tell the Mars guys and the Moon base guys that there is a need for very high reliability life support.

        • Nuclear submarines have reliably been using the electrolysis of water to produce oxygen for breathing for decades. The ISS also uses the electrolysis of water to produce air.

          So I find it difficult to believe that a lunar outpost at one of the lunar poles would have difficulty producing air for breathing in a region whose regolith probably possesses at least hundreds of millions of tonnes of easily accessible water ice.

          For a three year interplanetary mission, oxygen for breathing would require less than one tonne of water per individual. Water for drinking would probably require two tonnes per individual.

          But both of these water requirements would be relatively small compared to the mass of water required for shielding the crew against heavy ions and major solar events aboard an interplanetary vehicle


    • Joe says:

      There was also development underway on Constellation Systems for the required life support systems and no show stoppers had been encountered. There is therefore no justification to imply that life support systems were in anyway a reason for the cancellation.

      As an additional note, the Portable Life Support System (PLSS) for the Lunar EVA Pressure Suits was intended to do double duty for the American Suits used on the ISS. When the program was cancelled this work also got shelved. So far NASA has succeeded in keeping the current PLSSs operating. But the hardware design and even the components date back to the Shuttle Programs beginnings in the 1970’s. As a consequence they will eventually (the heroic work being done to keep them operating not withstanding) have to cease use. Then, I suppose, we can start paying our Russian friends for EVA maintenance services as well.

      • Andrew Swallow says:

        True. Life support will be the reason Constellation was cancelled. It is the cancelling of the development of new life support for building that will probably delay the future.

        • Joe says:

          Post below at – October 9, 2016 at 9:24 am – is intended to reply here. Did it on a remote device and it somehow became misplace.

      • Grand Lunar says:

        I thought there was work still going on in creating new systems for NASA.

        Or at least a new suit.

        • Joe says:

          After the cancellation of Constellation Systems there was an (underfunded) effort to work on a new PLSS, but even that was cancelled (I know because a guy I used to work with was on it and he lost his job when it was defunded).

          There is still some work going on for a new pressure suit (as opposed to PLSS (because that effort is cheaper). Even then they can only do sea level pressure testing because they do not have the money for altitude chamber runs.

          The irony (if you like that sort of thing) is that the new PLSS is the more urgent need, but they can only work on what they have the funding to pursue.

          • Michael Wright says:

            “the new PLSS is the more urgent need”

            This statement reminds me of the book “Space Gear” on history of space suits. While we are trying to recreate ability of Apollo (but obviously a sustainable ability), just in Apollo the space suits did not “just come together.” There was a lot developmental problems, disagreements (i.e. Hamilton Standard vs. ILC culture). Hey, it looks like we have same situation.

            Too bad that mystical “$3 billion” didn’t allow continuation of new space suits. John Young wrote in his book there are people with design ideas for new suits but he wrote something like JSC insisted on their monster suit.

            I think this is where NASA can continue their role as technology development. It seems there are fewer needs for space suits (ISS assembled, no more SR71, U2 flights becoming less). NASA can do R&D and what new ideas become usable, then SpaceX, BO, and other US companies can adopt it. Unless nobody thought of space suits for Mars missions 20 years into the future.

          • Joe says:

            Michael Wright ,

            “There was a lot developmental problems, disagreements (i.e. Hamilton Standard vs. ILC culture). Hey, it looks like we have same situation.”

            Curious comment. My first job out of college was working for ILC on the Shuttle Program pressure suits. There was a very clear demarcation point by that time (1982) between the two companies (Hamilton Standard – PLSS, ILC – Suit, ILC was in fact a Hamilton Standard subcontractor). While there were always differences in day to day operations (as there always are in any business) none had to do with PLSS design so it is hard to understand what you are trying to imply. There is currently no serious new PLSS work (of any design) in progress because no money has been made available by the current administration to do it and that has nothing to do with “office politics”.

            “John Young wrote in his book there are people with design ideas for new suits but he wrote something like JSC insisted on their monster suit.”

            Not sure what Mr. Young may have meant by that (do not know what book you might be referring to), but I am familiar with a proposal to build a PLSS based on using cryogenic (rather than high pressure gaseous) oxygen (the friend I referred – who lost his job when further PLSS work was defunded – was a big advocate of exactly such a system) but again that has nothing to do with anything else you said.

            “I think this is where NASA can continue their role as technology development. … and what new ideas become usable, then SpaceX, BO, and other US companies can adopt it.”

            That is certainly the “New Space” mantra. Problem is SpaceX (to date) has shown no interest in developing an EVA System for Mars or any place else only turning out “cool” viewgraphs of what they claim they are going to do someday and NASA is not receiving the money to pursue any designs in any case.

          • Grand Lunar says:

            Thanks for the info.

            One would think work on a new pressure suit would also mean continued work on a new PLSS.

            More than enough irony in this situation.

          • Joe says:

            “One would think work on a new pressure suit would also mean continued work on a new PLSS.”

            Sadly it comes down to what you have the money to work on.

            There is an old joke about a cop who finds a drunk wandering around under a street lamp (looking at the ground).

            Cop: What are you doing?
            Drunk: Looking for my wallet.
            Cop: Where did you lose it.
            Drunk: Over their in the alley.
            Cop: Why are you looking for it over here?
            Drunk: The lights better.

        • Andrew Swallow says:

          Certainly money has been put aside for an ECLSS for space suits and a variant for Single Person spacecraft.

          The ECLSS for capsules may or may not be suitable for 2-4 man Mars and Moon rovers.

          Long term ECLSS for 10-20 people may need more sophisticated systems.

          • Joe says:

            You might want to take another look at your link, the projects described are clearly listed as – Historical Projects (Some of Paragon’s historical projects are described below.)

            All of that work (at least the part related to EVA Life Support – which is what we are discussing here) predated the cancellation of Constellation Systems.

          • Andrew Swallow says:

            Current Paragonsdc projects

            “SPS” Genesis Single Person Spacecraft

            Genesis Engineering Solutions, Inc (Genesis) has contracted with Paragon Space Development Corporation to develop the conceptual design of the Air Management system (AMS) for their Single Person Spacecraft (SPS). The SPS AMS is responsible for maintaining a safe and comfortable atmosphere for a single occupant during all phases of spacecraft operations (including contingency operations).


            Page dates 2016

          • Joe says:


            Three points:

            (1) That is not an EVA System, which is what was being discussing

            (2) The key phrase is “conceptual design” that refers to a very preliminary low level effort apparently being done for an organization called Genesis Engineering Solutions. Never heard of them, but wish them luck in whatever they are trying to do. Again this in no way addresses the specific EVA issues being discussed.

            (3) The only mention of EVA on the page is as follows

            “Mars One

            Paragon was contracted by Mars One to perform an initial conceptual design of the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and Mars Surface Exploration Spacesuit System. During this study, Paragon identified major suppliers, concepts, and technologies that exist today and can be used as the baseline architecture for further development. The ECLSS will provide and maintain a safe, reliable environment for the inhabitants, providing them with clean air and water. The surface suits will enable the settlers to work outside of the habitat and explore the surface of Mars.”

            Again “conceptual design” work only. Suppose how you feel about this one depends on the credibility you give Mars One. No offense (if you like Mars One), but I rate their credibility somewhere between SpaceX and the old movie “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.

          • Andrew Swallow says:

            Mars One is a different project.

            Video about the Single Person Spacecraft.

            They were still working on this project in August. I do not know the level of funding.

  8. tomdperkins says:

    There is no point in even attempting anything but flags and footprints efforts which are meaningless in the long term, and very little reason to do that, at the SLS demonstrated to still be relevant price point of close to $10,000/lb.

    “the science-fiction fantasies of Elon Musk.”

    And that is not a statement of anyone who deserves to be taken seriously. The fantasy is thinking that anything more than the $1000/lb certainly possible should be done at all.

    The good news is that as the price of access to space drops to and below $500/lb, anyone will be able to put their money where their mouth is and go to the less valuable than the asteroids Moon if they want to.

    Why that doesn’t suit Mr. Spudis and Mr. 14 Feet of Ice Are Mandatory is a mystery.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Why that doesn’t suit Mr. Spudis and Mr. 14 Feet of Ice Are Mandatory is a mystery.

      Almost as big a mystery as to why you Muskateer cultists are so fervent in your beliefs. But I guess that’s the nature of religion.

    • Grand Lunar says:

      “There is no point in even attempting anything but flags and footprints efforts…”

      What makes you think this?

      There is much to be gained by attempting other efforts.

      Given Musk’s record so far, he is far from dropping the price to space by any amount, let alone enabling travel in interplanetary space.

    • Ben says:

      I had some difficult understanding your comment.

      This is my best guess at a summary:
      There is no point to do anything other than flags and footprints with a manned space program if your using the SLS.
      SLS is expensive (10,000/lb) [to LEO presumably]

      You don’t like Dr. Spudis claiming Elon Musk’s plan science fiction.

      $1000/lb [to LEO] is possible and anything more is not worth it.

      $500/lb [to LEO] will make lots of space activity feasible.

      Dr Spudis and Gary should obviously accept my beliefs.

      Let me just point out a few things:

      Falcon 9 payload [to LEO]: 50,265lbs
      Falcon 9 price: $62million
      Falcon 9 $/lb = $1233/lb.
      So even Falcon 9 doesn’t meet the requirement, so using it is a fantasy. hmm.

      As SpaceX fans are usually so happy to point out, every/nearly every other launcher costs more and they still frequently get used for commercial and government launches.

      Also SLS (as of 2012) was projected to cost $500 million per launch (excluding development cost, just like on Falcon 9 and BFR/ITS)
      Payload: 150,000 – 290,000lbs
      $$/lb: $1700 – $3,300

      Of course, if you include development cost you can get a higher number for either launcher. If you want to get ridiculously high number you can assume the SLS will be canceled after a flight or two and then roll all development cost into the cost/pound.

      One thing to remember with systems like the SLS is the marginal cost of an additional rocket is pretty small compared to the fixed costs. At higher flight rates (which, of course, SLS supporters argue for), the cost/flight can be a fraction of what it will be at the
      ridiculously low flight rate of 1 every 2 years. Before Discovery’s loss, the Shuttle was flying 5-8 times per year and there is no apparent link between the number of flights and the yearly program cost.

      Also the BFR/ITS in fact IS still science fiction. If and when it is funded and actually developed/designed it may become reality. Personally I hope he succeeds in building it but I will be surprised if he pulls it off. Building a rocket/spaceship that size has never been done and will surely run into expensive unforeseen issues. Time will tell if they can be overcome.

      Optimism is fine, but assuming people with experience should just accept your view without reasonable evidence simply weakens your argument.

      just my 2 cents.

      • Grand Lunar says:

        “Before Discovery’s loss, the Shuttle was flying 5-8 times per year and there is no apparent link between the number of flights and the yearly program cost.”

        I think you mean Challenger’s loss.

        Otherwise, the other loss was Columbia.

      • Joe says:

        Hi Ben,

        As we are discussing SpaceX economics here is an interesting point.

        SpaceX’s Shotwell has previously stated that attempted recovery of the Falcon 9 first stage requires a 30% reduction in payload capacity and (in a separate statement of course) the savings for reuse would also be 30%. As I have mentioned before that is pretty much a wash.

        Now, however, that appears to be changing.

        The payload hit would seem to be the same (she announced no changes) but, you will find (well down in the article) that the stated savings from reuse have now been reduced to 10%.


        “What is your current thinking on the savings for customers using a reused Falcon 9 first stage? Is a 30 percent discount realistic?

        We are not decreasing the price by 30 percent right now for recovered and reused vehicles. We’re offering about a 10 percent price reduction.”

        Reality of what it will take to refurbish a Falcon 9 first stage appears to be sinking in on Shotwell. Wonder if it ever will on Musk.

        • Ben says:


          Of course, a SpaceX fanboy could simply read that as SpaceX has decided that they want 20% more profit on the reused flights.

          Or a more measured reading could be:
          SpaceX may still be targeting a 30% cost reduction, but they aren’t there yet. Currently a 10% cost reduction is feasible.

          Or as you say:
          SpaceX has determined that it isn’t as easy to reuse the boosters as they thought.

  9. Joe says:

    “True. Life support will be the reason Constellation was cancelled. ”

    That sentence does not make any sense to me, so I cannot resond to it.

    “It is the cancelling of the development of new life support for building that will probably delay the future.”

    If by that you mean that NASA is not currently being allowed to pursue ECLSS development for BEO missions on an adequately funded basis that is certainly true, but it is a political not a technical problem (which was the point of the article in the first place).

  10. billgamesh says:

    Apollo was about winning the cold war. A half a century later the DOD is now gravely concerned with GEO and GPS vulnerability to the tune of billions annually. Then there is that mission the military wants nothing to do with: asteroid and comet interdiction. And finally there is climate change and the ravenous curve of energy consumption by our 21st century civilization. The solutions to all these problems are connected with nuclear weapons, the Moon, and Human Space Flight. The-hair-trigger-launch-on-warning scenario of the cold war never really ended. What ended was any credibility of the crazies preaching a survivable nuclear exchange.

    The most powerful device ever created by humankind is the H-bomb. Freeman Dyson worked on using “pulse units” for space propulsion a half a century ago. We can lift extremely large masses off the surface of the Moon using pulse propulsion. To get to the Moon we have the technology to build Super Heavy Lift Vehicles and launch them at a higher frequency than during the shuttle program. On the Moon are millions of tons of ice and quite probably ready-made lava tubes able to contain small factory-cities. The first missing piece of the puzzle to begin a second space age is the multi-million pound thrust ocean-recovered liquid-fuel reusable booster originally specified for the shuttle. That is the start and immense space solar power stations in GEO are the first step to the stars. This was the vision of Gerard K. O’Neill: power too cheap to meter, the end of poverty, and the beginning of space colonization.

    The worst enemy in this fight is a disinterested spoiled citizenry that is too lazy and stupid to exercise their imaginations or temporarily set aside their cravings. I consider the far right conservatives and far left progressives in this country to be the most irredeemable segment of the population. The NewSpace mob places second as disgusting stooges in the present scam. And of course it is all a scam in that most important sense: one need only follow the money to understand that. Anyone who says unions and taxing the rich made this country great is immediately demonized and hounded into silence. Ask Norm Augustine about the defense industry and the mega-corporations continuing to act as psychopathic entities. Space advocacy has turned into a billionaire hobbyist space clown carnival.

    I am not especially happy with Dr. Spudis or his conservative commenters lately- and they are not happy with me or who is going to be our next president. If she has an adviser that is indeed considering a lunar return that seems to me the single most important possibility right now.

    • Ben says:

      Look on the bright side,

      Both Blue Origin and SpaceX are actively developing “ocean-recovered liquid-fuel reusable booster[s]”.

      Blue Origin is even developing a “multi-million pound thrust” one. Almost entirely with private money to boot.

      SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage is 1.8 million pounds of thrust, so not quite “multi-million pounds”. But they are already nearly ready to launch a strap on booster version of it.

      The fact that both companies seem more interested in landing their boosters on land seems more of a matter of engineering trade offs than anything else.

    • James says:

      I know where we can get some pulse propulsion material. And the sooner we ship it all to the Moon and start building an Orion nuclear pulse spaceship there, the happier a lot folks, including me, will be.

      “The International Panel on Fissile Materials, at Princeton University, estimates the stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium at 88 metric tons for the United States and 128 metric tons for Russia. To give you a sense of how much plutonium that is, it is an unclassified fact that a nuclear weapon can be made with as little as 4 kilograms of plutonium. It’s a slightly touchier subject that this is the average in the U.S. stockpile — one can make do with less. But let’s do the math: Even at 4 kilograms per nuclear weapon, 88 metric tons represents enough material for 22,000 nuclear weapons.

      One hundred and twenty-eight metric tons is enough for 32,000 nuclear weapons.”

      From: ‘The United States and Russia Are Prepping for Doomsday’
      October 8, 2016
      At: https://www.yahoo.com/news/united-states-russia-prepping-doomsday-165806407.html

      So, 22,000 and 32,000 equals 54,000 pulses…

      That should be enough to get a large Orion pulse ship to Ceres and back several times.

      Or pick some other useful destination or destinations.

      If we are wise, the plutonium would become available.

      Let’s be wise and put it to good use.

      • billgamesh says:

        What would be astonishing to the public if presented to them is this simple truth: a titanium disc a thousand feet or so in diameter is a real-honest-to-God flying saucer. Such a monolithic construct forged on the Moon would be able to utilize directional H-bombs and effect Isp numbers in the tens of thousands. Such spaceships could take sizeable crews to the gas giants in the same time frames that chemical rockets take to go to Mars. In other words, the entire solar system, including dozens of ocean moons, would be within range of human missions. We certainly have enough bomb material and with the SLS Launch Abort System a large number of bomb pits, packaged to survive a launch anomaly, could be sent directly to the Moon on each mission.

        It sounds like science fiction but is a case of truth being far stranger than fiction. Ask Freeman Dyson.

        • billgamesh says:

          I would add that calculations from Project Orion indicate less than 3000 pulse units would take a spaceship to the outer solar system and back. Since adding a few tablespoons of deuterium and/or tritium to these devices effectively multiplies their yield this means the number stays the same no matter how large the ship. In other words, it is the need to keep the G forces within human physiological limits that dictate the number of bombs and not the mass of the spaceship.

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