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The Future of Human Spaceflight – A Public Forum

Posted by Louis D. Friedman

31-03-2014 17:37 CDT

Topics: commercial spaceflight, Orion, events and announcements, human spaceflight, Planetary Society People, Planetary Society, Lecture

The biggest space policy issue and the greatest space program uncertainty is: What should be the future of human spaceflight? Proponents of human space flight have urged returning to the Moon including establishment of a lunar base or looking beyond the Moon to send humans to Mars. Opponents argue that robotic missions can explore as much for far lower cost and with more scientific return. 

In the 42 years since the last Apollo mission, humans have not flown beyond low Earth orbit.  The capability to go back to, let alone beyond, the Moon does not exist, nor is any project approved with those ends. President Obama adopted the flexible path proposed by the 2009 (Augustine) Committee to Review U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans by proposing NASA plan a series of steps into the solar system – reaching a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s and landing on Mars in the early 2040s.

Orion with service module

European Space Agency / D. Ducros

Orion with service module
NASA’s Orion capsule, with a service module based on the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle. ATVs regularly carry supplies to the International Space Station.

Even the first step in that plan is beyond the capabilities of current space systems unless the near-Earth asteroid is redirected from its natural orbit to one closer to Earth, around the Moon.  The robotic Asteroid Redirection Mission (ARM) is a new and exciting idea now proposed by NASA to enable human space flight to go beyond the Moon and start on the path to Mars. The proposal has generated both enthusiasm and skepticism – some question its cost, some think it is a detour on the way to Mars or back to the Moon, while some see it as the only practical way to revitalize NASA and get human space exploration started again. 

A panel of three former astronauts will discuss the FUTURE OF HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT at a public event at the California Institute of Technology Beckman Auditorium, TUESDAY APRIL 8, 2014 at 8 pm. 

The event is organized and hosted by the Keck Institute of Space Studies (KISS) at Caltech, and co-sponsored by The Planetary Society. I will be the moderator. 

I have been the co-leader of the now-famous KISS study which first presented the idea of an Asteroid Redirection Mission to enable the first step beyond the Moon to be taken before 2025.  The KISS study continues with a follow-on technology development activity examining how the technologies of asteroid retrieval can enable further steps in human spaceflight, including perhaps getting all the way to Mars. Our astronaut panelists are participating with the KISS study. 

As co-leader of the KISS study, I am naturally very enthusiastic about the Asteroid Redirection Mission. It is the only way I seen to advance human spaceflight within the constraints of realistic budget planning. The mission, a stepping stone to Mars, is consistent with both The Planetary Society Roadmap developed several years ago and the Augustine Committee’s flexible path into the solar system. But, for me, the mission epitomizes the creativity, excitement and adventure of human space flight – moving part of the solar system robotically to create a scientific target extending human space flight further than it has gone before. The asteroid isn’t so important – the human accomplishment is what we seek, and what, I think, will finally lead us on to Mars. 

There are other views – as noted above.  Some want to focus back to the Moon, some want the commitment to Mars now, and all have to balance their view about what to do with how they propose to do it.  Our three astronauts on the panel are deep into these subjects: Rusty Schwickart, an Apollo astronaut, has been a leader on issues related to planetary defense, Tom Jones, a shuttle astronaut, is a planetary scientist who specialized in asteroid studies, and Garrett Reisman, another shuttle astronaut, is helping to develop the first privately funded human space flight at SpaceX. I hope members (and many others) will be able to join us for this panel discussion by the astronauts examining the Future of Human Spaceflight. 

See other posts from March 2014


Or read more blog entries about: commercial spaceflight, Orion, events and announcements, human spaceflight, Planetary Society People, Planetary Society, Lecture


Dean Male: 03/31/2014 09:54 CDT

".. is helping to develop the first privately funded human space flight" Wasn't Bert Rutan's (sub-orbital) SpaceShipOne the first [in 2004]? Dean

Stephen : 04/01/2014 12:10 CDT

@Dean Male: If suborbital space hops count as "space flights", then the world's first space flight was NOT when Sputnik 1 was launched back in 1957 but some time during the early 1940s when Germany was firing V2 rockets at the UK!

Bob Ware: 04/01/2014 08:20 CDT

1) My thought is that Garrett Reisman is referring to flights that are not sub orbital. 2) I am one who favors directly going to Mars when we build the vehicles to do so. We do have the technology capability to do so. These alternate destinations should be done also but only after Mars since we cannot afford to do them at the same time. I also think we should merge the ARM (which I do not favor) with an astronauted Mars mission using Phobos and Deimos as the asteroids of choice. This would be a permanent mission with hardware left behind to be added onto by the next missions. (The Mars Society plan... a great one) Doing the asteroid landings and planet landings at the same time will be tremendously ambitious but no more so than in the Mercury days when JFK proposed a Lunar landing and returning the astronaut safely to the Earth. If you can't fathom that as a real SAY WHAT!!! then ask Christopher Kraft (Mercury, Gemini and APOLLO days) how he managed to get that job done. I'll drop a clue; a 'CAN DO' attitude.

Messy: 04/01/2014 09:53 CDT

Construction of manned orbital vehicles has already begun. Three "Dreamchaser" minishuttles are being built as we type.

Messy: 04/01/2014 10:00 CDT

That seemingly rediculous manned Mars flyby in 2019 might actually be a good idea in order to see whether or not the thing is possible. We could get to the Moon because it's so damn close and the Apollo missions were so damn short, the ISS works because it's below the Van Allen belts. We need to know if a person can survive being in interstellar space six months or more. If we cannot, then what's the point?

TimR: 04/01/2014 06:53 CDT

Dr. Friedman states, "... advance human spaceflight within the constraints of realistic budget planning." This is the crux of the problem. All the debating by astronauts or our aunts and uncles is spun out of this constraint. For 30 years, we were locked into LEO by Shuttle and ISS, by cost and capability. Presidents have called for the Moon or Mars or a stepping stone to Mars. Now NASA is developing a Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) and Re-entry capsule that commercial could not afford to sell privately. By the time SLS & Orion fly, commercial ventures will have already much lower cost HLV and human-rated LVs. This is apparent now but we have little chance to change the course of spending $billions on these NASA projects before they reach first flight. So we remained constrained for another 10 years, not unless the young and old with the stature to influence decisions on Capitol Hill, unite and show "Apollo" courage that will be needed to overcome the Washington politics; more difficult than getting to the Moon "before this decade is out". Movies show space cowboys mounting their steed one last time for a ride to save the World. The present challenge - "the constraint", is not so glamorous but clearing "that challenge" from our path would change the World.

Bob Ware: 04/01/2014 08:08 CDT

Well said TimR. Thank you! Yes we can do this. We do know how to survive the flight. The gov't doesn't want to rotate a S/C (spacecraft) and we so desperately need to do that as one part to make Mars work. We know that and we know how to do it.

Douglass: 04/02/2014 08:26 CDT

Kind of amusing that this "forum" is being held when the National Research Council Committee on Human Spaceflight is about to release their long-awaited report. That effort included substantial public outreach, and will be looked at as a definitive assessment of the goals of human spaceflight. This KISS forum might have been more constructive had it been held a year ago. I'm guessing that Lou wasn't taken by that NRC committee as seriously as he would like to have been, so he's trying to steal a little of their thunder. ARM (the Asteroid Redirection Mission) is a clever idea, but quite baffling as a necessary step towards Mars. NOTHING that you need to go to Mars needs a space rock. The space rock just provides a thin excuse (the touch-a-rock definition of exploration) for doing what we need to do.

morganism: 04/05/2014 06:37 CDT

SLS is a funding black hole right now, but we should think of it as the ONLY vehicle capable of delivering a true ARM, if something is coming directly at us, and we need to divert it. To do that effectivley, we need to go capture a rock, and figure out what is causing the low densities measured by all the studies. Is it full of cracks, like the Russian valentines present? The rubble pile model that most scientists favor? My favorite is the methane hydrate crustal model, but we won't know unless we capture one in-sutu, and drill and geophone it . The "touch a rock" project will be done by OSIRISrex, and will help ground truth the spectro data we are basing ALL our knowledge of asteroids on right now. Too bad they didn't get the funding for the impact study that was proposed to go along with it. I am studying asteroid mining right now, and can tell you that i still favor a moon first model. The moon has been collecting asteroids for billions of years, and is giving us a pre-crushed, and nearly pre-sorted sample to work with. We need to know how to deal with dust, temperature swings, diamond inclusions possibly near 10%, and separation of metals and stone that can be best tested with a little bit of gravity to keep things attached to the ground. I dont see Mars to be of use till we know how to seperate and process in-situ. Would love to explore Phobos and Diemos tho, and the communications platform and refueling possibilities of those are the most useful precursors to any Mars mission anyway.

Phil Rounds: 04/08/2014 10:08 CDT

I believe we should move into space in short, but enduring, steps. If not we risk the possibility of recreating the conditions that led to our abandoning of Lunar exploration for 40 years. I'd like to see a permanent space presence established (preferably a rotating "space wheel") in Earth orbit and then one in Lunar orbit. From these we could base our manned lunar and planetary explorations. A similar station could be placed in Mars orbit when we get there.

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