Archive for the ‘Commercial Space Programs’ category

ISO: In Search Of A Schroedinger’s Cat

September 8, 2010

That segment of the Hippocratic Oath that calls for doctors “to do no harm” should not be relegated only to that profession.  It most certainly should apply to explorers.  Connected to this extended ethic is the scientific conundrum associated with Schroedinger’s Cat. Is the cat there, and is it alive or dead? In determining the answer we may very well impose circumstances that kill the cat or was the cat already dead? You may select the link above for more specifics on the cat and Herr Schroedinger. Our intent, here, is to make the point that in our explorations we should always strive to not kill the cat.

This ethic should apply to all levels of exploration; personal, scientific, and commercial. We are slightly more mindful of this imprimatur than in the past, but we are far from being perfect in our exploratory behaviors. To stress our point we will select three broad exploration areas and discuss the ethic within their respective contexts. The three areas are: Space Exploration, The Search for Life, The Search for Valuable Resources.

Space Exploration: We are doing pretty well here. We do not launch into space or to other planetary bodies without making sure that our spacecraft and our astronauts do not carry with them anything Earthly that may be harmful to our space neighbors or the broad environment of space.  Similarly, we also are careful to not bring back to Earth any foreign element that may be harmful to our environment.  Most importantly as we begin to extend our explorations from A (asteroids) to Z (some yet discovered Earth-like and habitable planetary body), we need to intensify these precautions.

Most importantly we must take extra precautions to not be overcome with the false hubris of the indomitable human. Past explorers have often suffered from this syndrome with resulting dangerous and often fatal encounters with foreign environments and life-forms. Does this mean we must be timid, overly cautious souls? Absolutely not, but it does insist that we proceed with caution and respect for the new domains we are investigating. This historically, has definitely NOT been a glowing reputation of our human predecessors. We must set a new and lasting example.

The Search for Life: What a glorious and exciting undertaking. Right now, with exception of some sampling from Mars and the Moon, we are exploring this planet for the answers to how life began. Scientists of many disciplines are involved in these explorations and generally they are most careful to not kill the cat By this we mean that we seek to study without disrupting or harming the source of our research or its environment. This is a practice that we must make certain follows us when we finally land humans, again, on the surface of a member of our solar system.

Are we perfect in the above precautions? Unfortunately we are not, and there will be instances where we repeat those accidents. We should learn from each incident and use it to guide us away from repeating these insults upon the foundations of life. Since we do not yet have all the answers and the key one of how life really started, we need to increase our cautiousness so that we do not obscure or alter those key pointers to life’s beginnings.

The Search for Valuable Resources: To live, to prosper and to continue to evolve we must attend to our well-being. This effort has evolved into a large and widely variable we generalize as commerce. This is very good and very bad. The good, all of us know about and appreciate. We also are very familiar with the bad, but often allow our attachment to the good to cause us to ignore the bad. We have certainly experienced a significant example of this in the late Summer and early Fall of this year (2010).  Most importantly we have clearly seen the impact of bad commerce on the well-being of ALL life-forms on this planet; from microbes to humans.

Commerce will actively and expansively enter space. This is good, and will be of benefit to all of us. What is not good is if that expansion continues to produce those bad outcomes. In order to prevent them we need to start here on Earth developing more effective ways to ensure that we eliminate those bad results.

No, we do not stop commerce, for that would stop us, but we can definitely create effective and HONEST systems that ensure that commerce does no harm, and does not kill the cat! This will cost each of us a bit more from our pockets, but it will buy us safety and peace of mind by making sure we fund commerce in such a way that it cannot be bad.

Most likely the money will be in the form of taxes, and the incentive to commerce will be a choice of investment help or serious fines and financial loss.  The latter hurts not only commerce, but it hurts us because we depend upon it to employ us and provide us with services and products that we need and want. There is absolutely no excuse for allowing commerce to kill the cat and thereby do harm to us. In space exploration this is critical, and we need to start now to develop systems that insure and support this policy and behavior.

So this exploration ethic must be expanded and sustained. In this regard, we close with a quote from Planetary Scientist, Dr. Sara Seager’s book, Is There Life Out There?

“When and if we find that other Earths are common and see that some of them have signs of life, we will, at last, complete the Copernican Revolution – a final conceptual move of the Earth, and humanity, away from the center of the Universe.  It will be a humbling, transformational experience.”


We are pretty certain that the cat in the image is not Herr Schroedinger’s, but this is obviously a cat who is unhappy in his environment. This is a human environment not his.  This striking image is courtesy of Found at this site:



September 4, 2010

In general, throughout humankind’s history the only explorations that have drawn and kept our attention are those that are great successes. Certainly, there have been many of them, and each has moved humankind forward in our evolution. Some of the failed expeditions did grab our attention because we came to closely identify with the explorers. This is certainly the case in all of NASA’s many expeditions, of which, thankfully, there have only been  limited failures.

Most exploration programs and the people who are involved are bold and very courageous. This basic ethic should not change. Now that we are nearing the challenges and opportunities to explore more of our solar system, missions that involve astronauts need to concentrate on factors that enhance success of each mission. That is right, “we emphasize the positive”..[to]..” eliminate the negative.”

Part of the emphasis process is to design missions that allow the exploration team to assess their new environments and to progress in an orderly, highly scientific manner. Let’s take everyone’s favorite expedition; putting humans on Mars. Well we will do that, but to do it successfully and with a high degree of new discoveries we should consider a step by step approach. No, these would not be baby steps. Each sub-mission, if you wish, would be directly related to the key mission of landing astronauts on Mars.

In two related blogs, we present ideas and viewpoints that directly deal with both spacecraft and astronaut well-being such as the effects of weightlessness.  The concept of a “built-in-LEO” spacecraft/space-station we have proven with the ISS, and to expand upon that would be one of those sub-mission steps. This would be particularly true if the new spacecraft/space-station was a blend of the ISS and the super shuttle we previously discussed in the “spacecraft” link above.

Another and related sub-mission step would be the inclusion in the spacecraft design provisions of an antigravity module that would address the need to protect the crew from exposure to long duration weightlessness. This same design challenge should and would be expected to address the issue of strong cosmic radiation on both crew and equipment.

Considering just the sub-missions above, we can easily envision the creation of a true spaceship that, in essence, becomes an exploration vessel in the same tradition as its centuries earlier seagoing exploration vessels. In this concept, the combo super-shuttle and spaceship design becomes our operations base whether the target is Mars, the Moon, or one of the other planetary bodies.  This concept was presented earlier is a related blog series (Parts 1-5) OF ASTEROIDS AND ASTROBOTS.

We accomplish in these primary sub-mission the creation of both the concept of a spaceship exploration vessel and the development of an exploration strategy that uses our super-shuttle space-station as the base of all our exploratory operations.  No longer does each mission have to be launched, expensively, from Earth. Only crews and supplies are launched in regular scheduled supply missions by commercial space contractors. Additionally, our exploratory vessel becomes a temporary space-station that orbits a target planetary body during a long-term and extensive robotic and human study of the planet. Mission durations will be extensive because crews will spend more time within the spaceship than on the planetary body thus reducing exposure to hazardous conditions.

Spacecraft Docking At Space-station

Successive sub-mission steps are performed, as required, to set up the temporary, orbiting space-station base at a selected solar system site. Additionally, excursions by both robots and astronauts onto the planetary body include more sub-mission steps. Importantly no efforts are made to establish a permanent base on a planet until the first full-length exploration mission has been completed and data and research results fully evaluated. One expected exception will be the creation of a permanent International Lunar Research Park as envisioned by The Moon Society.

So, is this concept really an assurance of a no-fail exploration policy? What it does is represent a planned best effort to emphasize the positive and to reduce the known impact of hazardous conditions. The aim is safe, extended exploratory missions that are highly productive. In all cases, failures can occur, but the concept is to anticipate them and to significantly reduce their impact when they do happen.  This is not a new concept. This very anticipatory operations plan dates all the way back to history’s earliest exploration missions. We, today, are just modernizing that policy and making it more effective and productive.  We want all of our exploration projects to be beneficial to and remembered by all humankind.


Jupiter and two moons:  Astrophotograph by the author.

Image of spacecraft docking with space-station. Courtesy, Flickr,


August 15, 2010

Now it is time to pull all of this together.  Let’s start with some questions.

  1. Question: You started out stating that the exploration of an asteroid should be done by a robotic rover.  Why did you change to a joint rover and astronaut team?
  2. Answer #1: There is a great deal to be discovered by surveying an asteroid. We learn important information on its behavior, composition and ways that we can deflect an asteroid.  We also learn about the presence of possible valuable minerals that could be profitably mined. This kind of exploration would be better accomplished by a joint effort of a roverbot and astronaut.  This is enhanced by the roverbot being directly controlled by the astronaut from an on-board command and control center of the Super Shuttle spacecraft. This is an ideal mix of human scientific expertise with the technological power of the roverbot.
  3. Answer #2: The proposed concept of the Super Shuttle, robot/astronaut teams, and the Super Shuttle serving as an on-site command center establishes a break-through configuration for all future explorations of our solar system. This does not rule out that some explorations will be done only by astronauts. The same is true for solo robotic explorations; however, it is our opinion that most solar system explorations will take advantage of the combination we present in this blog series.  We see it as the new space exploration system model.
  4. Question: The concept of a Super Shuttle that is totally space-based sounds a bit fanciful, don’t you think?
  5. Answer #1: It is not fanciful at all.  We built the ISS in this way and we can certainly build the Super Shuttle the same way. Making it totally space-based introduces both considerable savings and advantages that improve the entire solar system exploration roadmap.  The expanded ISS will serve as both a fuel depot and a maintenance shop for both the Super Shuttle and the astrobots that fly with it. Yes, we expect the ISS to both grow and to be renovated to keep it safe and viable.
  6. Answer #2: Additionally, support of the ISS as both an orbiting research center and as the service center for the Super Shuttle teams will expand the need for and the ability of the commercial service operations that provide supplies and crew transfers to the ISS.  It is envisioned that the HLV launch vehicles developed by the commercial sector will be highly efficient and less costly than those required to provide launch support for human spaceflight missions that include both crews and exploration spacecraft.  The Super Shuttle(s) once assembled stay on duty in space and can be heavier and more extensive than could be economically launched from an Earth site by even a monster HLV.
  7. Question: You base the entire program model for solar system exploration on an International Consortium.  Is this really possible and workable?
  8. Answer#1: Yes it is since we have already set a solid standard and example with the ISS, and with the shared usage of the space telescopes such as Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, etc.
  9. Answer#2: The United Nations Outer Space Treaty that has been signed and ratified by all the currently active spacefaring nations clearly supports, actually mandates, that we move into outer space in a joint and cooperative manner.  We need to exercise the provisions of that treaty and move ahead in a united scientific and commercial effort to explore all that surrounds us.

Original Space Shuttle:Role Model for the Future

It is recognized that the above questions and answers are only a small set of the many questions and suggestions that this blog series generates. In this regard we ask for your specific questions and comments and we assure you we will answer them promptly and completely to the best of our abilities. We need your comments and advice.

Personally, I get very excited about the exploration model we have presented. I am particularly hopeful about the development and operation of a fully international space exploration program.  As with the ISS, this will tie all of us closer together, and in the future we will need that to help us first protect our home planet, and to eventually move on to a new home as our solar system faces a dying Sun.

No, I won’t be here and neither will any of you, but what we do today and in the immediate future sets the stage for generations to follow. If we don’t assume that responsibility then we have relegated this civilization to ultimate extinction.  Just think of all the other great civilizations we will not get to meet and interact with because we fail now.  We have both the opportunity and the mandate to provide a space exploration legacy to the future.  We owe this to all humankind here and across the universe.


August 10, 2010

Astronaut/Robonaut EVA

The Augustine committee, for example, found that without both human and robotic missions, “any space program would be hollow.” The following statement was taken from a report from the Congressional Research Service entitled: “The Future of NASA: Space Policy Issues Facing Congress” (January 2010).  This report acknowledges the strong support for robotic explorations, but also clearly supports the logic and value of joint mission profiles that include robotics, human spaceflight, and human spaceflight with astrobots. This latter joint activity is about to take place on the International Space Station with the presence of NASA’s Robonaut 2.

Some advocates for astrobots envision the majority of space exploration missions being accomplished with robots or robot rovers such as those involved with our Mars explorations. As stated above, the strongest logic seems to support individualized mission planning that would include some exclusively robotic missions while others would either be totally human spaceflight missions or a joint mission involving humans and robots.

The significant point is specific mission planning that uses the right human and/or robotic resources. Support for this flexible approach is a policy decision that includes both human spaceflight and robotic spaceflight capabilities in the mission resources pool.  This approach appears to be alive and well considering the coming joint mission to the International Space Station involving astronauts and robonauts.

With the foregoing in mind let’s look at some mission planning considerations for the announced mission to an asteroid.  In this regard, President Obama’s announced schedule of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 sets a mission planning and development time interval that will be a factor in the following mission considerations. These are:

  1. How much of the mission is solid science and how much of it is a PR “gee whiz” project?  I am not saying the “gee whiz” factor is totally wrong, but it should be only a side benefit to our investigation into threat avoidance and resource potentials of near Earth objects.
  2. Accepting the mission key objectives of threat avoidance analyses and resource assessments, does the mission need human spaceflight? In answering this issue we should include consideration of a robotic mission as a fully acceptable and successful alternative.
  3. If we decide to consider a robotic mission, then there are several key issues that must be considered before a final mission profile is established. These are: (a) mission related design requirements, (b) design, development and test time-frames, (c) successful accomplishment of (a) and (b) before the end of the White House 15 year launch goal (2025), and (d) consideration of a joint astronaut and robonaut team approach including impact on desired mission launch date.
  4. What are the benefits of the asteroid mission being planned as a joint international space exploration project? The White House space plan specifically calls for increased and improved joint missions involving NASA’s foreign space partners.  In considering this, we would need to relax the current 2025 launch target to allow for the necessary multi-national mission planning efforts. Like the ISS program, the idea of an international mission to an asteroid further cements our transition from nation-based space exploration to a global program.
  5. Should this mission also be developed as a joint civil and private venture in which select commercial entities would both contribute to and benefit from the asteroid mission? If this were to be included, would it be useful to have the commercial partners responsible for the resource evaluations vis-a-vis future mining operations? Ideally, if included, the commercial partners would also share in the mission costs.

Lastly, cost is an important issue and there is already a suggested budget for this mission. Would a change to a robotic mission alter that cost? Would the alteration increase, decrease or hold to the planned budget? Additionally, would changing the mission scope to become an international program result in some shared development and program costs that would benefit all the participating nations? These are all serious and critically important considerations and hopefully will be included in the actual mission planning effort.

In Part III of this blog presentation we will offer our view of a specific robotic mission to an asteroid.  Please join us.


The image above is an artist’s concept of a joint astronaut and robonaut mission involving the assembly of a space telescope.  Courtesy NASA.