Manned Mission to Mars By 2030s Is Really Possible, Experts Say

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Sending humans to Mars by the 2030s is affordable, a group of experts finds, but some key changes are needed if it is going to happen.

A workshop group of more than 60 individuals representing more than 30 government, industry, academic and other organizations has found that a NASA-led manned mission to Mars is feasible if the space agency's budget is restored to pre-sequestration levels. Putting the first humans on the Red Planet would also require international cooperation and private industry support.

There is a growing consensus among the space community that a manned mission to Mars should be a priority worth working toward in the coming years, according to Chris Carberry the executive director of Explore Mars Inc., the organization that hosted the workshop with the American Astronautical Society.

"To be able to make it feasible and affordable, you need a sustainable budget," Carberry told SPACE.com. "You need a budget that is consistent, that you can predict from year to year and that doesn't get canceled in the next administration."

 

Written By: Miriam Kramer
continue to source article at space.com

46 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

      As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first. Of course, who wants fusion with all this fracking gas and oil around now?

      It’s an unfortunate quandary we humans are in. Yes, fusion will be cleaner than oil and coal, but jobs are being providing by the extraction of oil and gas. Someone needs to come up with not only the environmental benefits of fusion, but also jobs that it’ll provide people along with the obvious construction jobs it would create.

      • In reply to #4 by Ateo1979:

        In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

        As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first. Of course, who wants fusion with all this fracking gas and oil around now?

        It’s an unfortunate quandary we humans are in. Yes, fusion will be cleaner than oil and coal, but jobs are…

        That’s not harder than it was replacing all the jobs that vanished with the rise of robotics and automated manufacturing. Not to talk about all the countless jobs modern computers have erased.

      • In reply to #4 by Ateo1979:

        In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

        As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first. Of course, who wants fusion with all this fracking gas and oil around now?

        It’s an unfortunate quandary we humans are in. Yes, fusion will be cleaner than oil and coal, but jobs are…

        There should be no quandary. The “jobs story” is just a story. There is no reason to believe that oil and gas will provide more jobs than the alternatives I listed in brackets @6. The same sort of marine engineering crews are needed to build tidal turbine farms as are used on ocean oil rigs.

        Fusion is a red-herring as fusion power-stations are only a development concept for the future at the present time.
        Research on fusion is required, but it is Thorium generators, tidal generators, hydro-electric stations where the environment is suitable, with wind, solar thermal, photovoltaic, and geothermal in suitable locations. These technologies are already available. What is needed is a big kick in the behind for the politicians who are obstructing these or just will not get on with plans for building them.
        The bankers have the investment money, and need to lend it to modern low-carbon developments, instead of funding obsolete polluting industries, property bubbles, or the marketing of consumer trivia.

    • In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

      As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first. Of course, who wants fusion with all this fracking gas and oil around now?

      Why choose? Let’s create a need for fusion powered military space craft to attack a fake martian threat. I’m sure the military would love to have something new to fight.

    • In reply to #3 by Mrkimbo:

      I think that solving the crisis caused by climate change is going to be humanity’s number one scientific priority about then, and will take all the resources we’ve got.

      It does not work like that. It is the planetary sciences and space technologies which are providing us with the tools and data on climate change.

      • In reply to #13 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #3 by Mrkimbo:

        I think that solving the crisis caused by climate change is going to be humanity’s number one scientific priority about then, and will take all the resources we’ve got.

        It does not work like that. It is the planetary sciences and space technologies which are providing us with the tools and data on climate change.

        So what exactly are we going to learn by sending humans to Mars that is going to be directly relevant to climate change?

        Also, it’s not at all clear to me WHY we need to send HUMANS at all. I’ve never heard a convincing argument in terms of scientific research that could be done that would justify the order(s) of magnitude difference between the cost of a human mission and sending robots. The justification for sending humans is usually emotional metaphorical language about destiny, inspiration, etc. Which I’ve always found odd, that people who claim to be driven by reason and science seem to want to abandon it when it comes to making decisions about how to best do some kinds of scientific research.

        • In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

          So what exactly are we going to learn by sending humans to Mars that is going to be directly relevant to climate change?

          The benefits of using humans, was the versatility demonstrated in the scope of the exploration of the Lunar surface by Apollo crews (compared to the Russian robot landers), the space-walks for repairing the Hubble telescope, and building the ISS.

          The discovery of the greenhouse effect on Venus was a major input in understanding climate change. – Knowledge which was only gained after probes had been sent. Studying the climate and “geology” on other planets does a great deal to help us understand the history and the present climate on Earth.

          Also, it’s not at all clear to me WHY we need to send HUMANS at all. I’ve never heard a convincing argument in terms of scientific research that could be done that would justify the order(s) of magnitude difference between the cost of a human mission and sending robots.

          This has been much debated among space scientists. Extended period data collection in very remote parts of the Solar System is undoubtedly best done by robot probes which do not have the life-support overheads needed for humans. On the other hand, if humans are going to be space-faring and colonisers of other planets, a start needs to be made.

          As far a the costs go, the returns from investments in space technologies is much greater than the vastly larger sums spent on wars.

          World’s top 15 military budgets 2012

          Governmental budgets for space activities

          http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/the-space-economy-at-a-glance-2011/production-and-value-added-9789264113565-30-en

          http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/content/book/9789264111790-en?contentType=/ns/Chapter&itemId=/content/chapter/9789264113565-6-en&containerItemId=/content/book/9789264111790-en&accessItemIds=&mimeType=text/html

          Space applications have become an important part of everyday life. Weather forecasting, air traffic control, global communications and broadcasting, disaster management — these and many other key activities would be almost unthinkable today without satellite technology. The space industry itself is relatively small compared to other manufacturing sectors, but its technological dynamism and strategic significance mean that it plays an ever more critical role in modern society.

          • In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #14 by Red Dog:

            So what exactly are we going to learn by sending humans to Mars that is going to be directly relevant to climate change?

            The benefits of using humans, was the versatility demonstrated in the scope of the exploration of the Lunar surface by Apollo crews (compared to the…

            There is no question that humans can do things robots can’t. But discussions of human versatility or “Experiment X would have failed without a person” are not conincing to me. You could have one out of two robot missions be a total failure and from what I’ve seen the cost benefit ratio would still be strongly skewed toward robotic missions. You can do at least ten and conceivably 100 or more robotic missions for the same price as one human mission. Sure there are a few specific things you can’t do with a robot but I’ve never heard a justification that makes up for the price disparity.

            I think it’s important to frame this correctly. To me this is a trade off between a reasoned approach to scientific funding and an emotional one. Even if we forget about the very real limits on NASA and related budgets these days in the US, even if there were virtually unlimited funding for space, the bottom line is IMO you can clearly get more data via robots right now. So when you choose humans you are doing it because you want the emotional gratification of sending humans not because of any actual scientific justification. If you justify based on amount of useful data returned you go with robots.

          • In reply to #21 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

            There is no question that humans can do things robots can’t. But discussions of human versatility or “Experiment X would have failed without a person” are not convincing to me.

            It is always difficult to predict the benefits from scientific research and exploration. Over decades I have had numerous arguments with people who claimed space developments were a waste of money – which could be better used to feed the starving etc.
            They have generally been proved spectacularly wrong as technologies far beyond most people’s wildest dreams have materialised. Space-tech based, disaster management systems – satellite earthquake detection, tsunami warnings, drought monitoring etc have been put in place precisely because the earlier research made these possible.

            You could have one out of two robot missions be a total failure and from what I’ve seen the cost benefit ratio would still be strongly skewed toward robotic missions. You can do at least ten and conceivably 100 or more robotic missions for the same price as one human mission.

            If we dumped the warmongering politicians and the silly enormous military budgets, we could easily afford to do all of these things. We have nuclear weapons, dangerous nuclear powerplants, and nuclear waste problems, because these political clowns, decided on Uranium instead of Thorium, BECAUSE it could be used for weapons!
            The present situation is a bit like the days of sailing ships, when leaders in many countries, lacking imagination, refused to fund Columbus and other explorers, or when the British government abandoned the Black-Knight / Black Arrow programs (after successful prototypes had flown to orbit) “because there was no commercial market for small satellite launch vehicles”.

            Sure there are a few specific things you can’t do with a robot but I’ve never heard a justification that makes up for the price disparity.

            I would certainly oppose a flight to Mars as a one-off media gimmick, but we need to get people living off Earth, to move out into space. Personally I think asteroid mining bases are a better first option, but the Moon and Mars need to be on the agenda for the future of human colonisation of space. In the meantime robots should continue to explore the remoter parts of the Solar-System and be used for long duration missions.

          • In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

            They have generally been proved spectacularly wrong as technologies far beyond most people’s wildest dreams have materialised. Space-tech based, disaster management systems – satellite earthquake detection, tsunami warnings, drought monitoring etc have been put in place precisely because the earlier research made these possible.

            I don’t know about Tsunamis but I do know about computers and I know that the claims I see in the press about NASA’s impact on computer technology are wildly inflated. Don’t get me wrong NASA had some of the most brilliant minds in the field and the work they did was amazing. They had real time constraints that make the work I did seem like toy problems in comparison. By that I mean constraints about the size of the hardware and software, the ability to survive the stress of lift off, orbit, and space. The very specific requirements to integrate with various hardware devices that were also — due to the unusual requirements — custom developed.

            So while the US Information Technology industry moved to wide spread adoption of what the DOD calls COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf Software) NASA was always hacker heaven — you had to do it all yourself which we techies love. For some critical applications they couldn’t even use standard operating systems like Windows or Unix,and they often had to code in low level languages like Assembler to get things to fit into the minimal memory available, and ironically from about the 90′s onward IMO at least NASA often lagged in using the best available tools and technologies because while the rest of the IT industry was standardizing (and hardening and developing reusable code and tools in) technologies such as Unix and Linux and Java NASA was stuck with all their custom developed tools and environments.

            I’m not saying the work they did wasn’t relevant of course it was. That is the way research works people get ideas from all over and the NASA guys always had lots of interesting stuff to say at the AI and Object-Oriented conferences. But the direct applicability was minimal. Unlike for example research funded under the Information Superhighway initiative that Clinton and Gore funded (and that Gore was senselessly mocked for taking some credit for). For once THOSE programs gave us direct industrial benefits that started whole new economies, things like the Internet.

          • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

            They have generally been proved spectacularly wrong as technologies far beyond most people’s wildest dreams have materialised. Space-tech based, disaster management systems – satellite earthquake detection, tsunami warnings, drought monitoring etc have been put i…

            I don’t know about Tsunamis

            It is only when you look at details of earthquake and tsunami warnings that the magnitude of the benefits become apparent.

            http://www.nature.com/news/satellite-system-will-speed-up-tsunami-warnings-1.10480

            Satellite system will speed up tsunami warnings – GPS networks could cut time needed for accurate alerts by a factor of ten.

            NASA and a group of universities known as the READI network have begun testing an earthquake-warning system based on satellite data from the Global Positioning System (GPS). The method could have allowed Japanese officials to issue accurate warnings of the deadly March 2011 earthquake and tsunami ten times faster than they did, say scientists.

            The system is currently being tested using the US Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array: hundreds of GPS receivers placed along the North American coast between Northern California and British Columbia in Canada. The sensors provide real-time measurements of ground movement caused by nearby and offshore seismic faults.

            …..

            “The data get to our lab in under a tenth of a second,” says Melbourne, “and we can process that into a position estimate good to a couple of centimetres within a half-second.”

            Many such spin-offs were not anticipated when early research was begun on Earth and planetary monitoring.

            There’s also this one:- A NASA inventor developed the technology that now enables cell phone cameras and other imaging devices around the world.

          • In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

            If we dumped the warmongering politicians and the silly enormous military budgets, we could easily afford to do all of these things.

            And as my dad used to say: “if the queen had a schmuck she would be the king”. Of course dumping the war mongering would be great! I’m all for it. But that is irrelevant to my argument. As I said even if we had unlimited resources it doesn’t stop the fact that the Return On Investment from money spent on robotic research vs human research is at least an order of magnitude.

            But, come to think of it I DO agree, if we abolished all wars — something I’m all in favor of — we would have so much abundance that why not send humans to Mars. And once you abolish war I will change my opinion and support a manned Mars mission 100%. Until then…

    • In reply to #3 by Mrkimbo:

      I think that solving the crisis caused by climate change is going to be humanity’s number one scientific priority about then, and will take all the resources we’ve got.

      Absolutely! Adding Martian hot air won’t help.

    • In reply to #3 by Mrkimbo:

      I think that solving the crisis caused by climate change is going to be humanity’s number one scientific priority about then, and will take all the resources we’ve got.

      As I have pointed out in other posts, planetary science shares methodology and information gained from more than one planet. Science does not work on tunnel vision looking at preconceived conclusions.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SHARAD
      >

      SHARAD (Mars SHAllow RADar sounder) is a subsurface sounding radar embarked on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe. It complements the MARSIS instrument on Mars Express, providing lower penetration capabilities (some hundred meters) but much finer resolution (15 metres – untapered – in free space).

      SHARAD is intended to map the first kilometer below the Mars surface, providing images of subsurface scattering layers with high vertical resolution (15 m), with the intent to locate water/ice/ deposits and to map the vertical structure of the upper subsurface layers.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MARSIS
      >

      MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) is a low frequency, pulse-limited radar sounder and altimeter used on the ESA Mars Express mission. It features ground-penetrating radar capabilities, which uses synthetic aperture techniques and a secondary receiving antenna to isolate subsurface reflections.

      Unsurprisingly, the same technologies are used for measuring diminishing ice-caps on Earth.

      http://esto.nasa.gov/conferences/igarss-2002/01Papers/07091420.PDF

      Radar altimetry identified areas of mass loss and
      mass gain on the Greenland and Antarctic ice
      sheets
      [5,6].
      Recent advances in synthetic
      aperture radar intereferometry provide valuable
      information on ice sheet dynamics and
      grounding line behavior [7]. When combined
      with ancillary data, these measurements yield
      estimates of mass balance for various outlet
      glaciers and ice sheet drainage basins and the
      responsible mechanisms [8].
      Advances in airborne laser ranging capabilities and Global
      Positioning System technology, detect ice
      elevation changes to within 10 cm, leading to the
      first comprehensive observation-based
      assessment of the Greenland ice sheet mass
      balance [9]. Ice penetrating radar improves
      understanding of past and current ice sheet
      behavior [10], and the thickness measurements
      enable estimates of ice flux [8,11].

      Over the next five years, NASA’s Ice Cloud
      and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) will
      measure elevation characteristics
      and changes of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets using
      advanced laser ranging technology.

      With 15 cm single-shot precision, ICESat will detect
      elevation changes to better than 2 cm accuracy in
      a 100 km x 100 km grid. It is the first mission
      designed specifically for ice sheet research and
      ICESat’s 94° inclination will maximize coverage
      of Greenland and Antarctica.
      When coupled
      with observations from the Gravity Recovery
      and Climate Experiment the overall ice sheet
      mass balances will be more accurately assessed.

      The suggestions that funding for planetary sciences should be exclusively focussed on one planet (Earth), shows a lack of understanding of the nature of the subject and its methodologies. The nature of science is to use more than one sample – including moons and planets!

  1. In reply to #2 by A3Kr0n:

    As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first.

    Fusion power is a good long term option for both space exploration and power generation on Earth. However there are intermediate steps which need to be put in place first. Power-generation needs Thorium Nuclear generators before fusion generators, not to mention numerous low-carbon green solutions. (Wind, tidal, solar voltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, ground heat storage, insulated climate managed buildings etc.)

    Of course, who wants fusion with all this fracking gas and oil around now?

    I see Dave Cabonaceous Cameron is urging the UK to get behind fracking! It will take lots of investment money and time to develop this. It is dangerous, will leave a legacy of pollution, and divert investment money away from urgently needed green alternatives, (but lets not upset the sponsoring mining corporations, oil/gas multinationals, or the denialists in his own party). He has already arranged cuts to the Environment Agency which is managing the present floods and predicting future requirements.

    As cool as going to Mars is, I’d rather see developing fusion power as a priority first.

    The same Thorium reactor technology, followed by fusion reactor technology can be used for powering both objectives.

    For rapid interplanetary rocketry VASIMR electric powered engines (http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/news/releases/1999_2001/h00-91.html) need to be developed. They have been proven on ground tests, and a small one is being used on the ISS. These Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rockets can run off Solar power, Nuclear power, or Fusion power.

    There were earlier discussions on some of these topics:-

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/643310-water-cooled-nuclear-power-plants-aren-t-the-only-option

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/632627-harness-the-sea-national-geographic-june-2011-tidal-wave-power-generation

    http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642733-why-the-laws-of-physics-make-anthropogenic-climate-change-undeniable

  2. Anyone contemplating an expedition to Mars should look at this leading peer-reviewed study:-

    http://www.bis-space.com/what-we-do/projects/project-boreas
    >

    In 2006 members of The British Interplanetary Society, led by the scientist Charles Cockell published an extensive report on the design of a human base located at the Martian North pole. This was Project Boreas, and was named after the Greek God of the North Wind. The study ran from 2003 and was an international project involving over 25 scientists and engineers. Its primary aim was to design a station to carry out science and exploration in the Martian polar region. In particular, the retrieval of a core sample from the polar ice cap was seen as a primary objective of the mission giving vital information about the martian geological and climatological variations throughout the planets history.

    The crew would be up to 10 people remaining on the surface for 1173 sol-days. Any crew would have to deal with psychological and social problems with being confined within a small space and with the same people for so long. The crew would be kept busy by solving many technical problems as they occur, or by focusing on the science objectives of the mission.

    Alt TextRight click and select “view image”

    • In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

      Anyone contemplating an expedition to Mars [ ] would have to deal with…

      Consider Russia’s Mars 500 crew. Physically, they appeared well after emergence; I do not know the test results of their psychological state, however. Plus, obviously the simulation was limited.


      Note that there was no female on the crew. Mars One certainly will have at least one XY, and not just for PC reasons, I hope.

      The young woman in my linked article has a passion to colonize Mars. Someone has to be first, to go where no woman has gone before, damn the torpedoes.

      • In reply to #9 by bluebird:
        >

        Consider Russia’s Mars 500 crew. Physically, they appeared well after emergence; I do not know the test results of their psychological state, however. Plus, obviously the simulation was limited.

        In Project Boreas, the plans are for a scientific base with outside expeditions and vehicles.

        As far as the flight to Mars goes, it would make sense to use a space vehicle with artificial gravity, provided by having a rotating two part vehicle linked by a boom or a tether.

        http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask-astro/answers/980204c.html

        I have already suggested a VASIMR rocket engine which would give continuous thrust rather than a slower, “fire and coast” trajectory, using a chemical rocket. Eventually it may be possible to maintain 1G thrust for short interplanetary flights in a craft which is not rotating, – but probably not in the near future.

  3. The case for renewables is not being helped when politicians put their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge any problems. Thorium nuclear generators seem to be a great solution but the slightest mention of nuclear power fills everyone with alarm after Fukushima.

    • In reply to #19 by Nitya:

      The case for renewables is not being helped when politicians put their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge any problems. Thorium nuclear generators seem to be a great solution but the slightest mention of nuclear power fills everyone with alarm after Fukushima.

      Thorium reactors can’t melt down and the waste has a very short half life. They have been unpopular with politicians because they can’t be used for making bombs.

      The carbonaceous Luddites and their stooges are not likely to cooperate, but if investors recognise that their “coal and oil reserves” are worthless because they can’t safely continue burning them, then their attitudes will no longer matter when they go bankrupt holding an unmarketable product!

      Some very good suggestions are coming from high places! The silly thing is that the money they are using to wreck the planet is our money and so in the tax money governments give them as subsidies for drilling oil and gas wells!

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25743457
      >

      **Get your cash out of fossil fuel backed funds says UN climate chief **

      Christiana Figueres has called on investors to pull their money out of fossil fuel linked funds.

      She said institutional investors would be in blatant breach of their fiduciary duty if they ignored the “clear scientific evidence”.

      Ms Figueres said that they should put their money into green assets instead.

      The issue of investing in oil, gas and other fossil fuel-backed funds has provoked a heated debate over the past 12 months.

      Carbon bubble

      Environmental campaigners have argued that if the Earth is to avoid dangerous climate change, defined as temperature increases above 2C, then up to three quarters of the coal, oil and gas that remains must be left in the ground.

      Some financial experts have argued that if these resources are essentially declared worthless, this will have a major impact on the share values of the fossil fuel corporations that own them.

      Now the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has joined the voices calling on investors to get out of high carbon assets.

      “The continued and dangerous rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is in large part the direct result of past investments in energy and mobility systems based on the use of fossil fuels,” Ms Figueres told an audience of investors and corporate leaders in New York with more than $20 trillion in combined assets.

      “New investments must now assist in reversing this unsustainable trend, and quickly if the world is to have a chance of staying under a 2C temperature rise,” she said.

      Ms Figueres argued that investment decisions needed to reflect the science. Climate change, if left unchecked, could devastate the lives, livelihoods and savings of billions of people into the future.

      Last November in Warsaw, Ms Figueres lambasted the coal industry and challenged them to divest from carbon.

      She is now concerned that too few companies have disclosed the full picture of their holdings in fossil fuel resources. Ms Figueres says that huge opportunities exist for investors in climate friendly assets.

      According to the International Energy Agency, the world will need to invest $36 trillion in clean energy by 2050 to keep the Earth on track to stay below a 2 degree rise.

      However the move into green investments is uneven. Last year around $10bn of green bonds were issued, with many of the leading global banking groups such as HSBC, Zurich Insurance and JP Morgan involved.

      But while around $281bn was invested in 2012, this is much lower than the estimated trillion dollars a year that experts say are required.

      To suggest that climate change can be tacked by diverting money from the small percentage of GDP spent or invested in space, is just silly.

      • In reply to #22 by Alan4discussion:

        To suggest that climate change can be tacked by diverting money from the small percentage of GDP spent or invested in space, is just silly.

        I certainly agree, but it seems to be the direction the discussion is taking. It’s not going to be a trade-off between the two any more than noble aims to ‘feed the poor’ etc.

        A few years ago I attended a talk about the advantages of thorium as a fuel source due to its short half-life ( a couple of hundred years as I recall). Everyone left the talk filled with optimism and eager to see this become a reality. Within months the disaster at Fukushima hit the news. I think the future of any form of nuclear power in this country is zilch.

        • In reply to #24 by Nitya:

          In reply to #22 by Alan4discussion:

          A few years ago I attended a talk about the advantages of thorium as a fuel source due to its short half-life ( a couple of hundred years as I recall). Everyone left the talk filled with optimism and eager to see this become a reality. Within months the disaster at Fukushima hit the news. I think the future of any form of nuclear power in this country is zilch.

          However – in other countries:-

          China Is Using US Research to Take the Lead on Thorium Reactor Development

          In the fracking-dominated and carbon-obsessed United States, we often forget that carbon-neutral energy doesn’t have to simply be solar and wind. There’s also nuclear power, of which alternative, safe power cycles exist, ones that were first developed by American researchers. But after years of sitting around, that research is finally being put to use–by China.

          We’ve long discussed the thorium dream in depth here at Motherboard, largely because it’s oh so tantalizing: an alternative fuel cycle for nuclear reactors that produces little to no waste, has very low proliferation risks, and has extremely low risks of meltdowns–and in some cases, none at all. Thorium is a very abundant resource, and, as proponents like to say, converting the world to thorium power would provide thousands of years of carbon-free, clean energy.

          But the nuclear dream in the United States stalled in the 70s and 80s. Promising research into thorium-powered reactors that reaches as far back as the 60s was shelved because, at the height of the Cold War, we needed uranium reactors, which produce plutonium for bombs. And in any case, large energy corporations had already invested heavily in pressurized water reactors, and thorium represented a fresh start on a whole new avenue.

          While the US has only paid lip service to thorium in recent decades, China is joining the likes of India, Japan, and Norway in a quest to develop a working, commercially-viable thorium reactor. And because China is in the midst of a huge nuclear push, it’s likely to end up selling any successful designs it’s able to develop. Princeling Jiang Mianheng

          In other words, China has taken a pair of massive problems–increasing energy demand, pollution, and its reliance on coal–and is trying to make money off the research it will take to solve them. Compare that to the US, where research funding into alternative energy has turned into an ever-shrinking, Solyndra-branded political football, and you wonder who’s going to be powering our future.

          The Chinese will no doubt, sell the Thorium technology to the carbonaceous dummies at a later date! – as they do with solar panels!

          http://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1133974/china-leads-world-sales-solar-modules

          China became the world’s largest solar power panel market in last year’s fourth quarter, and might retain the top spot throughout this year, according to industry consultancy NPD Solarbuzz.

          China accounted for 33 per cent of the 8.3 gigawatts of solar modules shipped globally in the quarter, up from under 10 per cent two years ago, the United States-based firm said.

          Modules are assembled into panels, which can be ground-mounted in solar farms, mounted on building rooftops or embedded in curtain walls.

          “China will likely become both a centre for upstream solar modules and parts manufacturing, and downstream applications,” Michael Barker, a senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz, said.

          For the whole of last year, China accounted for around 15.5 per cent, or 4.5 GW, of the global market of 29 GW, the consultancy’s mainland-based analyst Ray Lian Rui said. This represented growth of around 70 per cent from 2011. China ranked second after Germany.

          China is also catching up on space industries, with their recent successes. Chinese space program

  4. We should go to space because we can! Because it’s cool. And because if anything separates us from any other species, this is it. We are not going to feed the poor, solve climate change, etc, etc….. with the money we don’t spend on space, let’s face it. And we don’t go to space so that we can have non stick frying pans (I forgot who said that….). F@%KN A. Let’s go!

    • In reply to #25 by BriRey:

      We should go to space because we can! Because it’s cool. And because if anything separates us from any other species, this is it. We are not going to feed the poor, solve climate change, etc, etc….. with the money we don’t spend on space, let’s face it. And we don’t go to space so that we can…

      At least you are honest about it. Who cares about things like Return on Investment or budgets?! F**K IT! Go for it! Where no man has gone before, etc. And I share your enthusiasm. If they would take cripples who can barely stand on their own two feet I would sign up at the first opportunity.

      But when I stop thinking like the adolescent boy who had posters of NASA rather than sports heroes on his wall and wanted to grow up to be Mr. Spock — when I start to think the way I would about a business decision about budgets and about funding priorities and about how much science we will actually get from the money we spend,… not so much.

      And I find it ironic that the people who mock the “faith heads” for being emotional and irrational gleefully abandon reason when it comes to deciding how to fund space exploration.

      • Oh I’m not abandoning reason. Reason is not business sense. If we go with your reasoning, we will never go anywhere. Who can ever afford to climb mt everest. You just have to go for it. And by the way, no one wants to feed the poor. Not really. Because we could do all of it if we wanted to.

        In reply to #28 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #25 by BriRey:

        We should go to space because we can! Because it’s cool. And because if anything separates us from any other species, this is it. We are not going to feed the poor, solve climate change, etc, etc….. with the money we don’t spend on space, let’s face it. And we don’t…

      • when I start to think the way I would about a business decision about budgets and about funding priorities and about how much science we will actually get from the money we spend,… not so much.

        Stop thinking that way.

        In reply to #28 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #25 by BriRey:

        We should go to space because we can! Because it’s cool. And because if anything separates us from any other species, this is it. We are not going to feed the poor, solve climate change, etc, etc….. with the money we don’t spend on space, let’s face it. And we don’t…

      • In reply to #28 by Red Dog:
        Well, how does a dinosaur-type extinction event that is always possible factor into the business case calculation? In order to prevent that one needs to develop better space technology than we have now. (Human) exploration of Mars is one way of inspiring people to do it.

      • In reply to #28 by Red Dog:
        >

        And I find it ironic that the people who mock the “faith heads” for being emotional and irrational gleefully abandon reason when it comes to deciding how to fund space exploration.

        The space programmes generally have produced huge monetary returns on investment – once you deduct the military part of the budgets that went into the development of the rockets, the shuttles, and the surveillance satellites, and then add up the acquired value of engineering skills and technologies benefiting the contractors, along with the returns on the marketing of applications, and the data.

        • In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:

          The space programmes generally have produced huge monetary returns on investment – once you deduct the military part of the budgets

          The ROI from advanced R&D is extremely difficult to calculate. Once in a while you get something like the Internet or the transistor (which enabled all digital computers) where the economic benefit is huge and a direct result of research but usually it’s not easy to draw a straight line from research to the economy.

          So I’m not even going to ask you to give me a reference to back that up because I know what the reference would say. I had to write reports like that all the time. Every time I did a proposal to the Air Force or DARPA i had to include a section where I talked about how formal methods or software components was going to revolutionize the economy and lead to so many billions of extra dollars. My boss was a guy from bell labs who was normally a stickler that we never said anything in a paper or report that was speculation or that we couldn’t back up, even he realized we had to throw all those standards out the window when it came to talking about economic justifications. We weren’t doing science anymore we were marketing for the suits and it was the cost of doing that kind of very interesting work to pull stuff out of your ass. Not that it was a lie either, it’s just there really is no way that I know of to really quantify most of the economic benefits of advanced research.

          And frankly I don’t care. You don’t need to convince me that research is worth doing. Preaching to the choir baby it’s how I made my living for many years. I’m not questioning the value of space research.

          I’m making an argument that we apply the same discipline of critical thinking and reason over emotions that we advocate everywhere else when we decide HOW to do space research. That when we decide whether to send robots or people it’s not based on how much we want to live out our Star Trek fantasies but on how much useful scientific data we will get as a return from the money invested in the research. And when you look at it that way manned space exploration over robots at this time makes no sense for any justified scientific reason that I’ve heard.

          • In reply to #43 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:

            The space programmes generally have produced huge monetary returns on investment – once you deduct the military part of the budgets

            The ROI from advanced R&D is extremely difficult to calculate. Once in a while you get something like the Internet or the transistor (which enabled all digital computers) where the economic benefit is huge and a direct result of research but usually it’s not easy to draw a straight line from research to the economy.

            That is true, so basically we can only make a clear assessment retrospectively, looking at things like SAT navs, digital cameras, global communications, satellite crop and vegetation monitoring, weather-mapping, ocean mapping, irrigation water availability data, hurricane and tsunami warnings, disaster assessment and relief organisation, earthquake warnings and evaluations, anticipation of asteroid impacts, monitoring climate change, geological mapping of mineral resources – all with massive economic effects. These facilities do however point to the potential benefits of future space research.

          • In reply to #43 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:

            I’m making an argument that we apply the same discipline of critical thinking and reason over emotions that we advocate everywhere else when we decide HOW to do space research.

            The US could apply the same discipline of critical thinking and reason over emotions that they advocate in military budgets.??

            http://www.businessinsider.com/military-spending-budget-defense-cuts-2011-10?op=1
            >

            Defense spending is higher today than at any time since the height of World War II

            America’s defense spending doubled in the same period that its economy shrunk from 32 to 23 percent of global output*

            In 2007, the amount of money labeled ‘wasted’ or ‘lost’ in Iraq — $11 billion — could pay 220,000 teachers salaries

            By 2033 the U.S. will be paying $59 billion a year to its veterans injured in the wars

            America spends more on its military than THE NEXT 15 COUNTRIES COMBINED

        • Companies like Boeing supply aircraft for the civil passenger market, defence & space exploration. As you say there is a lot of spin-off technologies from space exploration. And probably a lot of unofficial cross-funding from the defence/space budget to the civil aircraft projects.

          In reply to #42 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #28 by Red Dog:

          And I find it ironic that the people who mock the “faith heads” for being emotional and irrational gleefully abandon reason when it comes to deciding how to fund space exploration.

          The space programmes generally have produced huge monetary returns on investment – once y…

  5. It is probably possible to send men to Mars in the next five or ten years. I doubt it is possible to send them there and back and keep them alive. We are doing so well with robots now. I see no reason to change this in the near future. We have a very long way to go before we can travel in deep space. It seems all too obvious the hazards are overwhelming and if people think otherwise they do not know what they are talking about. The human body is extremely fragile.

  6. At some point the human race has got to start to make preparations to expand further out into firstly our solar system, then once we have the technology and the ability make preparations to leave our solar system. Nothing stays the same forever, like so with our solar system. I know we have 4-5 billion years before our sun becomes a red giant, but we might as well start our journey sooner rather than later. The human race will have to learn to leave Earth permanently, space crews will have to be prepared to leave on one way trips with young mixed sex crews, to populate new colonies. The key to all this is a vastly improved means of propulsion, which requires a massive increase in the speed of spacecraft and a stable and long lasting fuel supply. Robots will be useful in the beginning but humans will have to be included at some point.

    • In reply to #38 by mark.peacock.7161:

      At some point the human race has got to start to make preparations to expand further out into firstly our solar system, then once we have the technology and the ability make preparations to leave our solar system.

      Rather than going to Mars it would make more sense to first set up a base on one of Mars moons to reduce communication times with robot probes on the surface. It would also be useful to set up mining stations with artificial gravity, in or near asteroids, so components and fuel could be manufactured in space.

      Nothing stays the same forever, like so with our solar system. I know we have 4-5 billion years before our sun becomes a red giant, but we might as well start our journey sooner rather than later. The human race will have to learn to leave Earth permanently, space crews will have to be prepared to leave on one way trips with young mixed sex crews, to populate new colonies.

      The Andromeda Galaxy will collide with the Milkyway and probably merge with it around that time.

      The key to all this is a vastly improved means of propulsion, which requires a massive increase in the speed of spacecraft and a stable and long lasting fuel supply.

      The VASIMR rockets I linked earlier would provide this. they can be powered by solar power, nuclear power of fusion power.

      Solar power is abundant in the inner Solar System. Fusion power runs on deuterium which is abundant as a small percentage in the Earth’s oceans and in the ices of comets, asteroids, the outer planets, and their moons.

      Robots will be useful in the beginning but humans will have to be included at some point.

      A combined approach would seem a sensible option, but the high cost of human life support would be a major issue in some locations.

  7. There is the mistaken belief that funding space exploration somehow takes away from progress in other areas (i.e. world hunger, new energy sources, climate change, etc.).
    I recently responded to a post decrying all the money spent on the Apollo project. The writer asked, how many children’s lives have been lost just to allow a handful of men to walk around on the Moon? I replied that the question was wrong. The question should be, How many children’s lives WOULD have been lost if we didn’t send men to the Moon?
    The challenges of space exploration have spawned technologies which would have taken decades longer to develop – some may not have been realized at all. I’m not going to go into a rant about spin-off tech from the early space program efforts, and no one can reliably predict what technologies will come from future space exploration, but how’s this for modest attempt:

    The need to reliably identify raw materials with a low-power, hand-held remote sensing device on the Martian surface (Tricorder anyone?);
    Improved tech to re-cycle and purify air and water (again, smaller and cheaper than is available today);
    Increased reliability & self-repairing capabilities of semiconductor components;
    A device(s) to build almost anything from raw materials (once again, smaller and cheaper…);
    Greatly increased energy efficiency in power generation and use.

    The five things I’ve listed already exist to some extent, but the need for the improvement of these technologies are critical if our sights are set on human space exploration. Space exploration drives all these technologies together under once umbrella. Without space exploration these technologies will still improve but not with the same immediate driving incentive. We can all agree that to have high tech water reclamation would be better now, while we have relatively easy access to drinking water, than to wait when the need becomes severe and usually with a relatively high price tag.

    It’s sometimes said that Success = Preparation + Luck. Space exploration and development provide a path for preparation.

  8. The real problem with this goal or that, be it Mars, Fusion or Climate Control is that there is no overall direction. If we decide as a species to go to Mars, what then? What Earth really needs is to figure out where we are going in the long run and start making some decisions with that in mind.

  9. Sending humans to Mars by the 2030s is affordable, a group of experts finds,

    Mars does not have a protective atmosphere like Earth, so it could be a bit like living in a shooting gallery!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26067927
    >

    A Nasa spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet has spied a fresh impact crater on the Martian surface.

    The hole is about 30m (100ft) in diameter and surrounded by a blast zone of debris punched out of the ground by the meteorite impact.

    The explosion that generated this crater tossed out debris as far as 15km (9.3 mi).

    The image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRise camera, one of six instruments on the probe.

    Researchers used HiRise to examine this site because the orbiter’s Context Camera had revealed a change in appearance in this >Martian region between observations in July 2010 and May 2012.

    Scientists have carried before-and-after imaging to bracket the appearance dates of fresh craters on Mars.

    These studies indicate that impacts producing holes at least 3.9m (12.8ft) in diameter occur at a rate exceeding 200 per year across the planet.

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