The primary focus of NASA's-- manned space program-- should be the pioneering and colonization of the rest of the solar system. That means building the space transportation and habitat infrastructure that can get humans into space and settled into the rest of the solar system. That would also mean minimizing the use of terrestrial resources while maximizing the use of extraterrestrial resources in order for humans to survive in the New Frontier. But any significant deviation of our manned space program away from the primary goal of-- human colonization-- would be a waste of tax payer dollars, IMO. And it seems obvious that the first logical step in that pioneering and colonization effort should be our closest neighbor in space-- the Moon.
But we've been to the Moon already. So why return?
Sure 12 Americans briefly visited the lunar surface back in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17) but we never tried to live there or live off the land! And that's a big difference.
NASA needs to focus on sending lunar habitat modules to the lunar surface in order to build a permanent and continuously growing manned facility. Such a facility would have immediate scientific, commercial, and strategic benefits:
1. We'll finally discover if the Moon's 1/6 hypogravity environment is deleterious to human health over several months or even several years as is the case of the microgravity environment aboard a space station. If it does turn out the the Moon's low gravity is harmful to humans over the long run, we'll also be able to determine if exercise, wearing weighted back packs, and, or, supplying temporary artificial gravity via a small rotating centrifuges can mitigate or eliminate these deleterious effects. On the other hand, if the lunar hypogravity environment turns out not to be harmful to health and reproduction in humans and other animals then colonizing the heavier hypogravity environment of Mars should be a cinch.
2. We'll finally be able to see if we can economically extract oxygen for air, water manufacturing (with imported hydrogen), and rocket fuel from lunar rocks and dirt.
3. We'll finally be able to accurately determine how much lunar regolith is required appropriately protect humans from galactic and solar radiation.
4. We can finally build and test the first electric powered mass drivers on the lunar surface to see if we can export lunar material economically into lunar orbit or to L1, L2, L4, or L5. Lunar material cheaply transported into orbit could provide us with a cheap source of oxygen and radiation shielding for orbit space stations and interplanetary vehicles. Lunar manufactured aluminum transported into orbit by lunar mass drivers could also be used for rocket fuel and solar sail manufacturing.
5. We'll finally be able to see how well we can grow crops and raise animals on the Moon for food.
6. Telescopes placed on the lunar surface could revolutionize astronomy taking full advantage of the natural vacuum and the 14 days of lunar night while being able to be easily maintained by humans already living on the lunar surface.
Colonization, of course, does not preclude the exploration, commercialization, or industrialization of other worlds. In fact, it greatly enhances it!
Robots capable of traveling up to 10 kilometers per hour could be sent out to explore the Moon from the lunar base. If they averaged 5 kilometers per hour, they could travel 120 kilometers per day, 1200 kilometers in 10 days, more than half the circumference of the Moon in less than 50 days. They could explore regions, collect rocks and dirt, and then return the samples back to the base. Unmanned robotic sorties could land inside deep craters, collect rocks and soil, and then take off into L1 where an Orion could pick them up during a manned mission to the Moon to return the samples back to Earth. So a single lunar base doesn't preclude lunar exploration. Eventually, a lunar regolith shielded (via lunar mass drivers) L1 station could utilize reusable manned lunar landers that could explore various regions of the Moon while also transporting humans to lunar bases of Americans and other countries.
In the long run, lunar colonist might live under more spacious Earth-like environments under huge pressurized plastic domes, perhaps a few hundred meters in diameter, appropriately protected from radiation from an insulating layer of water and from micrometeorites by an outer of lunar regolith. Eventually, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, chlorine and other useful agricultural and industrial chemicals could be imported far more cheaply from the asteroids or from the moons of Mars than from the Earth's surface. A large lunar population, mostly independent of terrestrial resources, might eventually generate revenue from wealthy tourist traveling to the Moon from the Earth, the burial of light weight and compact cremated human remains transported from Earth, the round trip of cremated remains returning to Earth sprinkled with Moon dust within a lunar urn manufactured from lunar materials, and perhaps the export of lunar uranium to Earth for the nuclear energy industry (I'll believe in lunar helium-3 mining when I see the first commercial fusion reactor on Earth).
However, satellite manufacturing and launching, might be the Lunarian's largest industry since it requires at least 20 times less energy to launch a satellite into Earth orbit from the Moon than from the Earth's surface. Additionally, fewer satellites may have to be launched from the Moon than from the Earth since they could be cheaply launched into high Earth orbits where only three networking satellites would be required rather than dozens of low Earth orbiting networking satellites. The Lunarians could therefore someday be at the core of the 100 billion dollar a year satellite telecommunications industry which could grow into a multi-trillion dollar a year industry within the next 20 or 30 years. Future historians may well ask why humans didn't reap the economic benefits of lunar industrialization by colonizing the Moon back in the 1970s or 1980s instead of waiting until the early 21st century.
The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (the Augustine Commission) recently concluded that NASA's Constellation return to the Moon program is running $50 billion over the current budget through the year 2020. They also concluded that cheaper alternatives such as the NASA's Side-mount shuttle and the DIRECT concept would also exceed NASA's budget by at least $20 billion to $30 billion.
So it appears that the Augustine commission will recommend a $3 billion dollar increase to NASA's annual budget if the US is to return to the Moon or a termination of the Moon program in order to stay within NASA's current $17 billion dollar a year budget.
So what should President Obama do?
At the height of the Apollo program, the NASA budget reached $33 billion a year in today's dollars, nearly twice as large as NASA current budget. NASA's $17 billion annual budget represents less 0.6% of the total Federal budget while the US Federal government is spending nearly a trillion dollars annually on defense related purposes. So a $3 billion annual increase to the NASA budget would be extremely tiny relative to the overall Federal budget.
I believe that President Obama needs to raise the NASA budget while also choosing the fastest and the cheapest return to the Moon architecture. That's why President Obama needs to raise the annual NASA budget by at least $3 billion while choosing NASA's SD-HLV (Side-mount shuttle) concept in order to return to the Moon to set up a permanently manned lunar facility.
Terminating funding for the Ares 1 combined with a $3 billion annual increase should give NASA an extra $4 billion dollars a year to work with without immediately terminating the current Space Shuttle program or the ISS.
At least $700 million of that should go to finance the development the Orion (CEV) over the next 5 years which is currently being funded at nearly $1.4 billion a year. That would raise Orion funding to $2.1 billion a year over the next 5 years.
NASA has preliminarily estimated that the cost of developing the SD-HLV vehicles should cost $6.6 billion and could be ready for full testing in 4 and a half years. So 1.5 billion a year over the next 5 years should be more than enough to develop the SD-HLV vehicles.
That leaves another 1.8 billion a year to immediately start funding the development of the Altair lunar landing vehicle over the next 5 or 6 years so that America could be ready to return to the Moon by 2016. Why wait until 2020 to return to the Moon when the shuttle derived heavy lift vehicles could be ready by 2015 or 2016?
Additional funds for the development of the Moon program could be garnered by terminating the Space Shuttle program and US ISS involvement a year or more before the Orion-HLV and Altair-HLV space craft are ready. That would be $5 billion in additional funds if both the Shuttle and the ISS were terminated a year early and $10 billion if they were terminated two years early.
2016 should also be a time when NASA should have plenty of extra funds from both the termination of the Space Shuttle and ISS programs and from the completion of the Orion, Altair, and SD-HLV development programs: plenty of money for a continuously growing lunar base program and beyond.
The US space program has always been the ultimate symbol of America's scientific and technological achievement. And NASA has contributed far more to the economic wealth of the US than it has consumed. The expansion of humans into the rest of the solar system is essential to the long term survival our species and towards the continued economic growth of human civilization. That's why President Barack Obama needs to strongly commit the US towards leading that expansion of humanity into the New Frontier.
The Sputnik Moment is a fascinating documentary on how the the Soviet launch of the first man-made satellite changed America's perspective of itself and its educational system. Its a wonderful look a monumental moment in American and world history. Take a look at this video at:
Scientists report original source of malaria Deadly parasite jumped to humans from chimpanzees, perhaps through 1 mosquito
Irvine, Calif. – Researchers have identified what they believe is the original source of malignant malaria: a parasite found in chimpanzees in equatorial Africa.
UC Irvine biologist Francisco Ayala and colleagues think the deadly parasite was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees perhaps as recently as 5,000 years ago – and possibly through a single mosquito, genetic analyses indicate. Previously, malaria's origin had been unclear.
This discovery could aid the development of a vaccine for malaria, which sickens about 500 million people and kills about 1.5 million each year. It also furthers understanding of how infectious diseases such as HIV, SARS, and avian and swine flu can be transmitted to humans from animals.
"When malaria transferred to humans, it became very severe very quickly," said Ayala, co-author of the study that reports these findings. "The disease in humans has become resistant to many drugs. It's my hope that our discovery will bring us closer to making a vaccine."
The study appears online the week of Aug. 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Human malignant malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum, which is responsible for 85 percent of all infections and nearly all malaria deaths. Chimpanzees were known to carry a closely related parasite called Plasmodium reichenowi, but most scientists assumed the two had existed separately in humans and chimpanzees for the last 5 million years.
Scientists in the current study examined several new strains of the parasite found in blood taken from wild and wild-born chimpanzees in Cameroon and Ivory Coast sanctuaries during routine health exams.
A gene analysis linked one chimpanzee strain to all worldwide strains of the human malaria parasite. This connection suggests that one mosquito may have transferred malaria to humans. Because there is little genetic variance among strains of the human parasite, scientists believe the transmission occurred in the recent past – maybe 5,000 to 2 million years ago – though an exact time could not be determined.....