Proposed Presidential Vision and Plan for NASA

Proposed Presidential Vision and Five Point Plan for re-directing NASA to more sensible, efficient and far-sighted human-in-space operations :

1) Challenge NASA with a new PLAN FOR SPACE - to begin delivering robots, supplies and equipment to the moon within TWO YEARS. The robots should be simple but dextrous, durable and repairable - in order to carry out a mission of long-term exploration, research and development focused on establishing industrial production capabilities on the moon. Since the moon is relatively close, the robots will be directly (though remotely) controlled by human operators on Earth. Controlling the robots will be tedious and slow, due to radio communication delays between Earth and the moon. But one remote controlled robot, operated in 24-7 shifts, should be able to accomplish at least as much per day as one space-suited human, and keep at it for years (with repairs), at roughly 1/100th the cost of a "manned" program and with no peril to human life.

The long range goal of the robotic moonbase should be to reduce the amount of material that must be launched from Earth for operations in space, especially for eventual establishment of a human occupied lunar base and for missions to Mars. Success in that effort will reduce the cost of going into space more effectively than any program of improving rockets. This is something we could have (should have) started 30 years ago. Having largely wasted the last 30 years of manned space operations, we can defer putting men back on the moon for a few more years, to ensure that this time we go back with a purpose, and a plan to stay.

2) Defer development of the Altair lunar lander by three years (beyond the current schedule). Design work would shift immediately to rapid development of a smaller robotic lunar lander that can be launched on Ares I. Robotic landers will not need to leave the moon - their components will be scavenged for use in the robotic base. The robotic lander design should be done quickly and kept simple and rugged, rather than expending heroic engineering efforts to maximize "payload" - the whole lander will be "payload". If a few landers crash, they will still be of value to the robotic base. In fact, part of the first shipments to the moon may simply be stock metal that is dropped by the lander near to the landing site, giving the landers an extra fuel margin for a more reliable landing or simply delivering more useful mass for a given amount of fuel expended in landing.

3) Defer development of the Ares V heavy launch Vehicle by three years. Design work should continue at a reduced pace, but the need for heavy lift will be reviewed again in three years, in light of projections for potential benefits of the robotic lunar base in the timeframe in which the heavy lift capability would be ready.

4) Continue but re-focus the new human-rated launch vehicle development (Ares I, Orion Crew vehicle). With no compromises to the safety of the system, it should be made capable of launching the small robotic lunar landers described above. Launching the small robotic lunar landers, and later delivering supplies to the International Space Station, would be used to thoroughly test the Ares I rocket before using it to take humans into orbit and to the space station.

5) Update President Bush's vague vision of humans "eventually" going on to Mars, with more concrete goals and expectations. Industrial capabilities developed on the moon will reduce the cost of Mars missions. Robotic technologies developed for the moon will be applied to establishing bases on Mars before humans land. The first human missions to Mars will establish a base of operations in orbit, near but not on the Martian moon Phobos, as the human base will rotate to provide artificial gravity. From that base, humans will conduct extensive mapping and exploration of Mars - mediated by robots - and also directly explore the martian moons. This approach will avoid the much greater risks and costs of sending humans directly from Earth to land on Mars, and will allow the early human explorers to investigate more broadly. It will also reduce contamination of Mars with Earth life, making the search for life on Mars more rigorous. Human directed robots will establish a base and production capabilities on Mars (and possibly its moons), reducing the costs and risks of future human landings.

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