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Nasa head of human spaceflight resigns days before 'historic' space mission (theguardian.com)
160 points by bookofjoe 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments

Eric Berger, the author of this article [0] on this departure is a very good source for space news. You might want to check his Twitter feed [1], there is more about this.

[0] https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/05/nasas-human-spacefli...

[1] https://twitter.com/SciGuySpace/

Commenters on there think he was forced out for not selecting Boeing as one of the lunar mission providers.

The aerosapace community of "old boy firms" is very tight-knit. So tight-knit that there are people with stars on their shoulders who---even though these processes are ostensibly open-bidding---will start asking questions about someone's national security clearances and loyalty to the country if one of the blessed firms doesn't get a contract. After all, if one of the "old boy firms" goes bankrupt, there goes America's capacity to construct missiles and rockets in wartime, and then where would we be?

It would be a funny legacy of this White House administration if it succeeded in breaking up the traditional aerospace cartel by appointing someone so green to a NASA executive position they actually weren't aware of the politics here and ran the contracting process as if every player were on equal footing. It'd be the first I'd ever heard of it happening in aerospace. ;)

Aren't NASA's budget and their subsequent aerospace contracts mere drops in the ocean compared to the DoD budget and their contracts? It seems like a PR and politics problem more than a real risk of NASA bankrupting Boeing.

While this is true when considering the total sum of the DoD budget, I think it would be more fair to compare the DoD's R&D budget -- which stood at something like $60B vs. NASA's $21B total... which really makes you wonder.. Anyway, along with people with stars on their shoulders, you can also piss off a congress-person who has a large NASA facility in their district..

The person in question ran the National Reconnaissance Office before NASA human space flight, so he is defiantly not “green”.

Defiantly, or definitely?

The exact opposite is true. Bridenstine is/was a politicians and Loverro had a lot of experience and had political positions before. He ran military and spy space programs.

I'm blown away by this administration on spaceflight, in the best way possible. Space Force is a huge step forward for building capabilities in space, on the military side. On the civilian side, Bridenstine is shaping up to be the greatest Administrator in NASA history.

Under his watch we're getting multiple, re-usable, private launch architectures and human spaceflight capabilities.

Plus, significant infrastructure in lunar orbit, forcing the ISS budget out of LEO.

All under complete American control.

Space Force is just shuffling the deck chairs and creating new management slots.

Space Force has far more visibility, and an institutional need to collect more budget, spend more on personnel, and build their fiefdom.

As they do that, they'll consume more and more private services, and help spur more and more industry in space. For me, that's a huge, huge win.

> building capabilities in space, on the military side

That's a total failure. Absolute, complete, across-the-board failure of the human race.

Just a few decades ago the militarization of space was universally acknowledged as inappropriate and this was codified in international law.

> Just a few decades ago the militarization of space was universally acknowledged as inappropriate and this was codified in international law.

That's a hell of an interpretation...

I'd instead say that the world powers recognized that nukes in space would be destabilizing, and banned that specific thing. Space has been militarized since the 60s.

Just to back this up, the Soviets mounted at least one cannon to a space station (Salyut 3 in 1974), and tried to launch an orbital anti-satellite weapons platform (Polyus in 1987).

There are satellites for watching and communicating, but no weapons.

Of course, actually there are weapons on some of the satellites but everyone pretends that there aren't to maintain stability. Publicly putting weapons in space is destabilizing, stupid to the point of evil.

Since the 50s.

I love your idealism, but you're living on a planet full of humans. I don't _like_ this very much, but it's obvious that other superpowers (China) aren't going to be hemmed in by idealism, so we need to make sure that we are in a position to (at the very least) defend ourselves in space.

Heck, even in the most idealistic portrayal of the future (Star Trek TNG) there's plenty of war in space.

Star Trek is teleplay (I'm a huge Trekker: I have a replica of a tricorder signed by Shatner himself, in front of me, at SVCC (Thanks Woz!). He smiled at me and said, "Nice to see ya'." I still have the silver sharpie marker he used. Touched by his own hand. One day I'll meet a kid wearing a Starfleet uniform and Vulcan ears and bequeath 'em that pen, but the tricorder is getting buried with me when I die. Hardcore ST4LIFE.)

Now then, you can't hold up Star Trek as something to help decide policy in actual space.

If anything "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" is the sci-fi to look to. I don't want to give a spoiler though, but, uh, whoever gets to the Moon first effectively rules the Earth.

That accounts for local space around the Earth, now Alan Dean Foster was the first sci-fi author to point out that war is impossible in space due to fundamental physics. I don't have the time to go into it now but it's not hard to work out once you clear away the mental/emotional dross.

In sum, "war" in "space" is a mental concept not grounded in physical reality. People have been watching too much fiction and are all screwed up in the head in re: the realities of space and physics.

If we wind up with "war" in "space" it will be a kind of theater that the powerful use to cow the naive.

Moon is a Harsh Mistress is definitely what I look to too, also. Even if the US is becoming more authoritarian over time, it's far from the worst Great Power. We do deeply, deeply shitty, immoral things constantly.

Compared to the Soviets, Mao, German Reich #2 / #3, Napoleonic France... the world could do worse for the First nation to take the moon.

I don't talk about it much because it seems ungentlemanly, but FWIW I'm an American exceptionalist too. I agree with you that, if someone has to be top dog, it should be us rather than the commies, etc.

But I strongly suspect that we won't be able to colonize space without fixing our personal problems.

...Bad example. The point of TNG was to demonstrate how humans overcame conflict and are exploring space to find new species and help solving conflicts.

Whoever controls the gravity well controls the world - I'd sure as hell rather that be my team, and not the other team.

There are no effective international institutions. The human race hasn't figured out any way to unify on a global level. There are no world police - just scattered teams with nukes at each others' throats.

If history is any indication, being on the losing team means being on the wrong side of obliteration and conquest. Being on the winning team matters - a lot.

This is the prisoner's dilemma, without any benefit to cooperation. The US has the wealth and the industrial base to spread throughout the solar system faster and more aggressively than anyone else.

Whoever militarizes space first controls every other nation's access to space, and has the ability to deny access to opposing nations.

I'm thankful the US is doing it before China.


> please don't say anything that further demonstrates your ignorance.

I'll leave that to you, shall I?

> Space Force is a huge step forward for building capabilities in space, on the military side.

Probably in violation of international treaties, but who cares about those.

> Under his watch we're getting multiple, re-usable, private launch architectures and human spaceflight capabilities.

The commercial crew program was begun in 2010 under the Obama administration. Probably the only reason it still exists is nobody has mentioned that to Trump. Giving credit for a 10-year-old program to Bridenstine, who's been at NASA for two years, is utter nonsense.

I don't mean to take anything at all away from Obama pushing COGS, as opposed to the old Constellation strategy. That was an incredible, bold move.

Besides SLS, though, it didn't move meaningful industry outside of LEO. It was an important step, but didn't fundamentally move us past the post-Apollo Space Shuttle funk. The Asteroid program was potentially interesting for getting mining going, but small in scale, with long timelines.

Artemis is the first time NASA has run on aggressive, tight timelines since Apollo. They're shooting for achievable, inspiring objectives -- quickly. And this time, we'll have THREE architectures that can get any American or American ally to the surface of the moon for a price.

Gateway guarantees long-term government spend in Lunar orbit, just like the ISS guaranteed long-term government spend in Earth orbit. Artemis aligns government spend towards the industrialization and militarization of space, on terms beneficial to the US.

Noo, Trumps big on Space. Dont try to baffle Trump supporters with facts. It does not work.

Trump, big on Space, fact.

And Space is really important this year, because whats going on on earth is fscked up beyond all recognition.

This seems to clearly demonstrate that NASA's reason for existing is pork, with space an afterthought. Sad.

I mean, one of the reasons the US military is so big is because politicians demand bases to be built in their state. Since the federal gov pays the salary of every uniformed public servant, and those servants use that salary in the local economy, it's basically a year after year windfall for local coffers.

It's not just big government agencies that are vehicles for pork, the whole government's been that way for a long, long time.

I learned this in sim city 2000 when I ran the local economy into the dirt. Didn’t realise the simulation was this accurate though.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy was developed on a budget roughly equal to 10 days worth of NASA's annual funding.

NASA's budget also includes astronaut training, educational outreach, and a ton of other programs. There's a categorical breakout of the NASA budget here: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/fy2021_...

To mention a few more, the NASA budget includes human operations (ISS), and the entire science enterprise (Earth, Planetary, Astrophysics) - things including Hubble, JWST, Curiosity.

This seems like a pointless comparison. Why should one SpaceX program be compared to all of what NASA does?

It would be like saying "angry birds was developed with 10 days worth of Microsoft's annual budget".

This is a meaningless comparison.

Do you have a source for that? If true, that's absolutely amazing.

This article quoted Musk as saying the falcon heavy cost "over $500 million" and that it had been awarded contracts worth $500-750 million that recouped its investment. So let's pin it at $600 mil for this comparison. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/13/spacex-falcon-heavy-rocket-o...

NASA's 2020 budget of $22.6 billion from here: https://www.planetary.org/get-involved/be-a-space-advocate/b...

22.6 billion * (10/365) = $712 million

In which case, he was in a no-win situation. Choose the economical providers and accomplish the mission on time and budget, or satisfy the porkers and blow the budget and schedule.

Everday Astronaut has a great video "SLS vs Starship"[1] which does a great job of explaining why SLS is designed the way it is.

TLDR: NASA realized that they needed "big rocket" capability. But because they get jerked around by the president, Senate and Congress every 4 years or so, the only way to get it was to design a program that was "unkillable", a program that was both ultra-conservative and spread the pork around widely.

1: https://everydayastronaut.com/sls-vs-starship/

Optimize for the game you're actually playing, not the ideal game you imagine it to be.

Musk plays those games too. That's why you have a factory in Nevada, and a future factory in Texas.

It could possibly be that there is a East coast launch site and a West coast launch site, and its easier to drive these things shorter distances to the launch pad.

This is in no way unique to NASA.

Given the creation of the new Space Force, it's hard to justify NASA on defense related stuff, and given the build up of the private space industry, it's probably going to be even less important. Deep down, I personally want NASA to still be important, I still think exploration has value. But that has always seemed like a side benefit from working on the "important" stuff.

> Given the creation of the new Space Force, it's hard to justify NASA on defense related stuff...

The "new Space Force" is just a renaming of existing assets (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Force_Space_Command). Hell, it's still under the Department of the Air Force and its Secretary.

Space Force budget is skyrocketing. New assets are on the way.

My guess is that it's purpose is ABM.

> Space Force budget is skyrocketing.

As with the staffing, that's largely just a transfer from the Air Force.


> Most of the funding for Space Force in the F2021 request simply reflects shuffling funds into the new account structure, but an Air Force official said today there is a $900 million increase compared to FY2020.

Seen through the most charitable glasses, the purpose of Soace Force is that any major-power shooting war is now likely to involve rapid space-based asset degradation.

Fighting such a war without a unified command over the theater in which that action unfolds seems destined for failure.

And failure to preserve or triumph in space substantially degrades planetary military capabilities.

So really, Space Force is an expression of "space is important to all the other military things we do now."

ABM is pointless. Too easy to saturate aka ddos it.

>Given the creation of the new Space Force, it's hard to justify NASA on defense related stuff

NASA is a civilian agency. It isn't and never has been justified by anything related to military defense.

It was my impression the Boeing had tried and failed to create a safe crew capsule. I am not sure if SpaceX succeeded.

I was thinking of posting the same thing. Especially since his resignation cites political risks...

The Ars Technica comments on any Eric Berger article are usually pretty awesome. But don't start with this one, there's not much rocket scientists can add to political rumour and speculation. Start with "Rocket Report" which comes out every Friday morning.

> [1] https://twitter.com/SciGuySpace/

It looks like the departing chief hadn't had the job for long. Might be a hot potato at the moment...

The "Sr. Vice President of Production and Launch" at SpaceX has also just departed from SpaceX. Berger writes in the piece below that "[t]he timing is not great, with the most important launch of SpaceX's history looming on May 27, a crewed flight of the Dragon spacecraft."


For the spacex engineer my first thought is not that he has something to hide but that he is taking on a new challenge with potentially much larger returns for him personally if relativity scales up than being part of the by now huge spacex team. Also the 3d printed approach is i think just an interesting challenge in itself :)

I implied no such thing, relax.

> It had nothing to do with commercial crew,” he said. “It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don’t want to characterize it in any more detail than that.” Artemis is NASA’s program to return people to the moon.


Story so far: (correct me if I'm wrong)

NASA has plan to get into the Moon by 2028.

Pence blindsights NASA and contractors by moving timeline arbitrarily forward without a plan in a grandstanding speech. "At the direction of the President of the United States, it is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years”. It's not a Tweet so NASA must scramble to make a plan. Funding for a new timetable is not there.

Gerstenmaier is removed without explanation as a head of HEO almost immediately after he testifies to congress. Gerstenmaier quits NASA to consult SpaceX.

Loverro comes in, is very bullish about the timetable. Now Loverro quits suddenly.

I think it's time for Jared to come in. If he can handle Middle-East peace and Covid-19, why not a Moon landing as well.

> I think it's time for Jared to come in. If he can handle Middle-East peace and Covid-19, why not a Moon landing as well.

You’re being sarcastic but this is horrifying.

In the country my parents immigrated from, government officials appointing their family members to important positions is very normal.

It also did get bad enough that my parents had to leave that country behind.

You'll be delighted to know that there's an increasing number of people leaving the US behind as well, or at least making substantial plans on what to do if they need to leave in a hurry.

Official numbers from 2019: https://news.gallup.com/poll/245789/record-numbers-americans...

Anecdata suggest this has significantly increased in the last year, and especially in 2020.

We live in what amounts to a failed state. There's still some hope it's repairable, but it's rapidly dwindling, and Jared's crown prince role is a large contributor to that dwindling.

Given the state of things, I'm not very hopeful. There are 10's of millions of people who don't believe in science (except when it saves their lives at the hospital), don't believe anyone but their dear leader (all news that contradicts their leader is "fake news") and hate anything that sounds intellectual (remember John Kerry? That was the main knock on him) because it makes them feel smarter.

And now, with the current administration removing watchdogs and ramping up corruption, it will be a miracle if any opposition with a majority of votes can actually win. Look at the attack on vote by mail, as an example.

Roger Ailes is dead, but his legacy lives on.

Something I find fascinating in this discussion is how November affects things. If Trump is re-elected, any hope of repairing institutions is realistically lost. If he isn’t, there’s a real possibility of funny business, either contesting the result or refusing to leave office.

I know it sounds preposterous that a president would refuse to leave office, but it also seems preposterous that an impeached president wouldn’t step down, and he’s become accustomed to degrading norms and breaking the law with impunity.

US lifestyle is still very good, but for those of us looking at the trend it’s really concerning. I know I’m personally making decisions with the possibility of needing to leave in the future.

>>> but it also seems preposterous that an impeached president wouldn’t step down

Like Clinton? Like Andrew Johnson? No impeached US president has ever stepped down. Nixon resigned before he was impeached.

I'm thinking about how Trump is running for re-election after impeachment - afaict that's somewhat novel. Nixon as you mentioned resigned under threat of impeachment.

I think maybe the bar for conviction in the Senate is too high in a way that is corrosive to presidential accountability. Both Trump and Clinton committed serious crimes without real consequence and it is disgraceful, regardless of politics. (note: I don't care about the sex, I care about the perjury and obstruction of justice)

You might not be able to go anywhere if US screws its COVID-19 response and the entire rest of the world does not.

There was at least part of NASA, including the Administrator that welcomed the 2024 target.

It's hard to imagine counterfactual where NASA administrators says something else and wants to keep his job. It's like how fighter pilots are always saying good things about new plane they are flying. It's the only option.

Government contractors were genuinely ecstatic. There is no downside for them.

> I think it's time for Jared to come in. If he can handle Middle-East peace and Covid-19, why not a Moon landing as well.

People say he's unqualified for anything. But he is uniquely qualified in that he is immune to being fired for fucking up everything.

Jared has only two positions:

1. Senior Advisor to the President

2. Director of the Office of American Innovation within the White House Office (position created specially for him). The office exists only to make recommendations the President.

When he meddles with the CDC or the US foreign policy, he is not bearing any legal responsibility. He is grey eminence operating in unofficial capacity. He can't legally make anyone to do anything, but everyone knows that he is just phone call away from the real power.

Amazingly I actually remember the Logan Act from US History, and even thought of it before I heard it mentioned in the news.

Logan Act applies to Flynn when he was working as transition team member for Trump when Obama was president. It applies to Jared when he was transition team member and talked to Saudis and Israel. President-elect is not the president.

Logan act does not apply to Kushner when he is acting on behalf of the president as he is doing today. Kushner has authorization to do what he does. He even has senior position in the WH. What he does not have is executive power or position on his own.

Jared's talent (if he has any) is to screw up and then convincingly claim he did a great job. Trump sees this as the apex of ability.

And so do his supporters. It makes an extremely effective political combination: all the enthusiasm of winning without actually doing anything. And it works as long as you can have goodwill and assets to burn.

Except when something happens that defies spin, like a pandemic that takes away jobs and lives.

I'm not sure how this is going to turn out, but even if the US elects a different president, the current one has provided a nice handbook to a potential autocratic future president to gain unlimited power.

I suspect that even a pandemic may not suffice. The only thing that gets through is a direct personal loss, and the death rate seems too low for that. You'd need deaths in the millions for everyone to know someone who died.

Even then it's easy to blame it on someone else. There's a reason they are calling it the Wuhan Virus.

I think the bissgest issue the Trump administration has with space is they don't have any idea how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations dealt with it. They think that Kennedy just decided one day that we would send men to the moon by the end of the 60's, but in reality it was years of discussions with NASA, largely championed by Johnson, before Johnson recommended to Kennedy that they establish this policy to put the US ahead of the Soviet Union.

Instead of this, we have the usual situation modern space exploration has settled into, some president boasts that we will do some thing and then after they left office some other president quietly kills it because its way to expensive.

What we should be doing is building coalitions with other countries to do join missions to the moon and all that, thats why the ISS has been so successful, its not just the US or Russia contributing, but dozens of countries. Not to say it could happen without the US or Russia, but the large number of countries working on it helps quite a bit.

Having read some of the histories of NASA and spaceflight, I think you're dramatically mistaken.

Kennedy committed to the lunar landing shortly after Shepherd's suborbital flight, and the idea from NASA was that they'd orbit the moon. Kennedy thought a landing would be more spectacular, but it took NASA quite a while to settle on lunar orbit rendezvous, let alone the Saturn V architecture.

Kennedy was on the verge of cancelling Apollo when he died, and Johnston was anything but a space expert. Johnson was definitely responsible for ensuring no American woman went to space until after he was out of office, the evidence is clear on that one.

The single person most responsible for getting America to the moon was probably John Houbolt (or perhaps Konstantin Tsiolkovsky).

There is also a lot of debate as to whether the ISS has been successful; this really depends on what your objectives were/are.

[1] John Logsdon's Bibligraphy

[2] https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/factsheets/Rendezv...

Johnson quite effectively used the space program as a form of political patronage, he used it to spread money and jobs around to potential voters, and it was structured in such a way to bring on key congressmen and senators to support the funding level needed.

I will argue quite firmly that without Johnson, there would be no moon landing or no space program as it developed later and as we know it now.

Weren't all of the people who went into space up until at least the mid 70s all naval/AF aviators/test pilots? Was there any chance for them to be women since women couldn't be test pilots back then?

Johnson had a meeting with some advocates who made the case for a couple of women being qualified to go to the moon (I believe the meeting took place at around the time of the selection of the second group of Gemini astronauts). If you look at his hand-written notes on the meeting agenda (included in a few document collections such as the Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration), you will see that Johnson appears to have rejected the idea for... personal reasons.

Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17) was not a test pilot or military aviator.

Johnson is also basically the reason why most of this happened at all.

How so?

Johnson definitely did a lot of pork-barreling with the space program funds, but I think the main reason that Apollo went forward was because Kennedy had espoused a grand vision shortly before being shot. Without Lee Harvey Oswald, I doubt that Neil and Buzz would have made it to the moon, especially given Apollo 1.

Well money is important and it was Johnson who pushed the idea on Kennedy. Kennedy initial thought the idea pretty nonsense, Johnson early on saw NASA a soft-power instrument.

It's also questionable if we'd have made it to the moon had Kennedy not gotten shot. The "do it for the murdered President" motivation likely helped keep the schedule pushing forwards, at least to some extent.


"Two people with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the personnel matter said his resignation was spurred when Loverro broke a rule during NASA’s recent procurement of a spacecraft capable of landing humans on the moon."[1]

My guess is that he was told: "Keep the moon landing on track for 2024 or you're fired." And the only way he could do so was to illegally expedite the selection process.

1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/19/nasas-h...

While I have no reason to doubt you, piling speculation on top of anonymous rumors isn't worth much attention.

If more concrete information comes out, I'm all ears.

...then again, what's all the playground politics worth anyway? nada

> speculation on top of anonymous rumors isn't worth much attention.

I've been called out twice on HN for this [1], but I wholeheartedly disagree. I hadn't heard this rumor before now, and now I have new information.

I can use my own reasoning to qualify the weight I give the claim. I know this is a rumor. I'd rather have some known possibly incorrect data than none at all. It helps me understand the possibility landscape better.

This one even has a WaPo article.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21989165

I don't disagree with anything you're saying here. My only point is that this rumor isn't worth much... and even if it is, the impact to us and/or the program is not significant.

> playground politics

A man's career was screwed...

One person. In a country with 330 million people.

Or maybe it was "You shouldn't have accepted gifts from contractors", my point is only that you are guessing with no basis in underlying fact.

I think you might be on to something. Maybe there is a further clue in his preface of "My guess is..."

> my point is only that you are guessing

He did preface with "My guess is". A guess is just that - a guess, without any info to back up your reasoning.

According to sources it was not and there is nothing to indicate it was.

Government procurement is an opaque mess.

He very well could have made an stupid but honest mistake at some point prior to coming over to his current position (it looks like he was hired last October), and it finally caught up to him.

It doesn't sound like that from his own wording:

> He wrote that he took “a risk earlier in the year because I judged it necessary to fulfill our mission. Now, over the balance of time, it is clear that I made a mistake in that choice for which I alone must bear the consequences.”

My suspicion is it was this: "Boeing also bid but was not awarded with a study contract."


Followup by Berger: https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/05/heres-why-nasas-chie...

He guesses that Loverro violated rules around procurement, potentially by pushing Boeing to improve their proposal because he favored a SLS based solution.

While Mr Loverro offered no further explanation, he told the Axios news website that his decision to leave the agency was unrelated to the upcoming launch. "I have 100% faith in the success of that mission," he said.


This reminds of the human factors issues during the Challenger Disaster:


It's an eye-catching headline but maybe there's nothing to see here. The resignation may be unrelated to the upcoming mission. I couldn't see anything in the article to suggest otherwise.

They're probably not related. But whatever prompted the departure must have been big if he didn't wait just a few more days.

Is NASA no longer an acronym or something?

UK style, and this article is from the Guardian, is to capitalize only the first letter of acronyms that are pronounced like words, "Nasa" and "Nato" being frequent examples. When each letter is pronounced (AKA an initialism), they capitalize each letter, such as for the WHO: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52294623

Very interesting, thanks for this.

I find this practice very dumb. A huge amount of acronyms now have to be written like regular words.

Eh, Americans do it too, just less consistently. When's the last time you saw LASER?

I'd say things like laser are no longer the acronym they once were. How many people actually realize that laser is/was an acronym in the first place? The word itself has 'genericized' to the point that it's just a word to most people now.

I could as well suggest the same about Nasa :) For all HNers that the distinction will be incredibly obvious, to Joe Schmo from Idaho, perhaps less so.

I would imagine that most people don't know what NASA stands for. At this point it's just a word.

Americans do not do this, when was the last time you saw Potus?

On the flip side, it disambiguates the pronunciation. BBC has each letter spoken individually, NASA does not.

"BBC" is not an acronym though, it's an initialism.

That's the point I was making, yes.

And then you have brands like POLITICO who go and ruin it for everyone. I'm very glad we don't tolerate those case shenanigans.

What really annoys me about the UK MSM is they'll write "COBRA", or even worse, "Cobra" for the COBR meetings.

COBRA is a nickname (not an acronym) for the Civil Contingencies Committee based on the meetings being in COBR (an initialism/acronym).


Everyday is a school day.


Aah, interesting. Thank you for clarifying!

It is an acronym, but it is rendered according to the house style of any given publication. The Guardian's style guide [1] says:

Use all capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters (an initialism): BBC, CEO, US, VAT, etc; if it is an acronym (pronounced as a word) spell out with initial capital, eg Nasa, Nato, Unicef, unless it can be considered to have entered the language as an everyday word, such as awol, laser and, more recently, asbo, pin number and sim card. Note that pdf and plc are lowercase.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a#...

Do people in the UK spell out VAT or say Vat? I've heard it said both ways, but I'm on the other side of the pond where we use NASA not Nasa.

Maybe we should default to "What's it look like on the logo?" The NASA logo for one would look pretty dumb as Nasa.

We do it both ways in speech, so say either V-A-T or vat, but it seems always to be VAT in text, according to the style guides of every publication for which I've worked, or have read for (weird) interest.

So, isn't that breaking their own style guide? That was kind of my point.

People act like this moon landing is not going to happen in 2024. It’s gonna happen.

Soooo many things have to go right to get humans on the moon. Only a few (or one!) have to go wrong to keep humans from getting to the moon.

That said, I hope humans get back to the moon soon.

They don't have a rocket although one may be ready within the required time frame. However, they definitely don't have a lander and there's no way any current MIC contractor can go from proposals in Oct. 2019 to working flight hardware in four years. All they're doing now is working on study concepts. 2024 will not happen.

The most obvious retort -- the one that springs to mind first, is, "What makes you think that?" But that's not really the most useful question...

More usefully, I'd ask, "Why the Moon?"

The US has been there, the science is well known (which is not the same as saying the science is all done) and all you (the US) can do in a international consortium to "Moon" is give away the crown jewels in knowhow and tech. Add to that, it's a research mission down another gravity well. I'd think that Mars is a more attractive science target (if you're determined to get stuck with gravity wells), one of the Lagrange points more useful from an engineering/space exploration perspective as a way-station, the asteroids for science and potentially minerals/engineering/learning to build/do stuff in space and outside the Earth's magnetosphere, or the gas-giants' moons for science/the search for extraterrestrial life. And all of those are things that (for large values of `true`) only the US has the capability to do. Leave other nations to go back to the moon.

Do the stuff no-one else can do and that will hugely enhance US space capability over anyone else. (I say all this as a non-US person.)

Add to that, it's a research mission down another gravity well.

There are so many practical advantages in a Moon base that I don't know where to start. It's very surprising to see them ignored in every discussion about relative merits of the Moon respect other options. Maybe they've been forgotten because much time passed since Apollo.

The main point is probably that the Moon is not another gravity well. It's a much much weaker gravity well. Take a look at the Saturn V and then to the LEM. Of course the former had to carry the later and the other modules. But still, only the upper half of the LEM was needed to put two humans in lunar orbit:


Another important point: you can cover habitational containers with regolith to provide a good protection against micrometeorites.

Eventually factories will be made. Unlike humans, you don't need to take stuff from Earth, saving tons of fuel. The only things that seem to be a problem to make there are fuel, and oxygen because there's no water. Solar energy is even stronger while not at night, obviously.

Oh and "research project" is a way of talking. You can say "exploration" as well, eventually "industry".

Edit: a couple of advantages more, that I don't see mentioned. One that the Moon has gravity and a surface. That means that humans can work more like on Earth and storage is much cheaper to build.

And another one: if a way to make ships or fuel from lunar materials is found, it would help any other mission. Taking cargo from the Moon to Earth orbit is much cheaper than doing that from Earth surface. Even if you plan to go to Mars or the asteroids, a Moon base is a great thing to have.

I thought that we were fairly sure there's water at the poles, frozen in the permenant shadows created in some craters?


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_water suggests we have a lot of evidence to imply there is, but until we get there and extract enough for a cup of tea, I guess we can't be sure.

We're pretty sure, and we are working on getting samples [0]. I'm not sure if we have a plan to send up a tea bag on the rover, but I'm going to suggest that that be added.

[0]: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/new-viper-lunar-rover-to-map-wa...

> Solar energy is even stronger while not at night, obviously.

Something to keep in mind is that lunar nights last something like 13 earth days (a full lunar day is 27 days, 7 hours, and change.) So there's a big power storage issue to contend with. Perhaps nuclear power on the moon is the way to go. It wouldn't be the first time a fission reactor has been put into space.

One solution would be to build a base in a pole with solar arrays in opposite directions so when one of them is blind, the other takes over. The poles are also interesting for other reasons, see detritus' comment.

Anyway, I'm sure there would be some other solution, maybe just halting production for two weeks.

How would the power be transmitted? Laying wires across the moon seems like a huge undertaking. Maybe this would be an ideal application for microwave power transmission between satellites or even statites?

If long-term human occupancy of the moon became a thing, it would be interesting to see what sort of cultural changes occur in a population working on a 'two productive weeks; two rest weeks' schedule.

I'm reading gp's suggestion as a single base in a single pole, which always gets sunlight from one direction. Cabling can be very short.

Yes, but even in a single pole cable would not be too short. After all we're considering bootstrapping, and moving tons of copper to the Moon doesn't sound cheap. I've heard there are points which the sunlight never reach, but not about permanent sunlight.

A quick search indicates that indeed there is no permanent sunlight, which, yes, invalidates the suggestion that just solar panels could be enough.


"Due to the orientation of the moon’s spin axis, the sun skirts and circles around the polar horizon. On certain mountain peaks, or elevated crater rims, the sun shines 80 percent to 95 percent of the year, with short periods of darkness easily bridged by temporary power sources, such as fuel cells."

No atmosphere, I guess a laser would transmit power well.

A lot of the justification for human space exploration seems to be circular and rest entirely on the quasi-religious belief that sending people into space is inherently good. Once you take away that belief, there's not much reason to do things like building factories or habitats on the moon.

> A lot of the justification for human space exploration seems to be circular and rest entirely on the quasi-religious belief that sending people into space is inherently good.

It's just a short summary of the reasoning.

Here - https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/why-explore-space-... - some arguments for space exploration in general.

Human exploration in particular becomes more clear when one realizes that modern robotics can't fit a lot of exploration requirements as well as humans can.

Aside from commercial goals - like resources, tourism, support of space equipment - we have natural, if strategic, curiosity of environment around us. We're just at the point when that "around" starts getting bigger than the planet.

> Here - https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/why-explore-space-.... - some arguments for space exploration in general.

I don't think anyone is against using space, but that's quite a different thing from human space exploration. The only specific example he gives of the direct use for space - using artificial satellites - don't require human space exploration. Neither do the more indirect benefits he mentions - international cooperation and having high level challenges. There are plenty of high challenges (even if we just look at space), many that would also have much more tangible benefits in addition to being a high level challenge.

Talking about our natural curiosity isn't a great reason either - we're already doing much more robotic exploration of space than most cultures historically did of their surroundings. And this exploration doesn't necessitate humans.

A good example of benefits of human presence in space is science obtained on orbital stations.

We don't have much more examples of actually being in space for humans - Apollo flights were short and few, so most other examples are either space stations or solo flights. Yet we have advancements of science even from that.

Particularly Apollo flights still represent the best overall scientific review of the Moon - and in general other non-Earth celestial bodies - so from science point of view advantage of robots is unclear. That advantage comes largely from being more economical to send a robot to space than to send a human, but things change with time, and flying to the same place becomes cheaper with time, so this advantage of robots may decrease. Will it be offset by increased robotic abilities is also unclear.

So Stuhlinger's arguments are not the only ones - and rather old by now, so newer ones are better seen.

As for natural curiosity, yes, we did often survey the other side of the river before going there - even before deciding if it makes sense to go, over millennia. Yet by now all rivers on Earth are crossed. So saying that exploration doesn't necessitate humans doesn't seem to generalize - it's the status quo for today, not the necessary law of nature.

...quasi-religious belief that sending people into space is inherently good. Once you take away that belief...

Why would you want to do that?

Not sure about the religious part, but sending people into space is inherently good, indeed. Exactly the same as traveling the world instead of sending a drone to photograph the pyramids. But not everybody can appreciate the difference.

Personal preferences aside, it's difficult to argue against your position unless you define what you think are the goals of space exploration, human or not. Maybe there's also different goals for different persons.

Society grows great when old men build space ships they’ll never get to ride.

> Why the Moon?

We need to poke it with a stick every now and then, so that it knows we're still here.

At this point no one can do a manned Moon landing. That technology has been lost. US doing a landing is a way to reclaim that technology, and that can be useful to start building up some semi-permanent presence closer to the Moon, boosting research and eventually some kind of industry in cislunar space.

> all you (the US) can do in a international consortium to "Moon" is give away the crown jewels in knowhow and tech

From the POV of people involved at the scientific/engineering level, that may very well be the point. The less jingoism is taken upwell, the better for everyone.

> if you’re determined to get stuck with gravity wells

Of course you are. Gravity wells are where the stuff is.

Millions of asteroids and comets are triggered right now ;)

By definition, they are gravity wells proportional to the quantity of stuff they can offer. Smaller gravity wells are disproportionately easier to escape from, granted, but I'm not so sure the ROI of random asteroids will make up for that.

The commenter you replied to likely understood this, so it seems superfluous to point out.

Even visiting the ISS is a form of "going down a gravity well." If every sentence must be accompanied with an asterisk and a "well, actually" explanation, nothing of value ever gets said.

Consider Halley's Comet, which has a volume of approx 960km^3 and a mass of 2.2×10^14 kg. An astronaut standing on the surface could reach escape velocity with a not-all-that-robust vertical jump. For similarly sized celestial objects, the real trick might be not escaping their gravity well.

Granted, it is technically correct to point out the difference is merely quantitative. However, the effects of that merely quantitative difference are so pronounced that in any practical sense there is a qualitative difference in how we would interact with such an object.

>> Even visiting the ISS is a form of "going down a gravity well."

That's my point, though. If they're negligible as gravity wells, what's the point over just a space station? Working isn't any easier. We can't choose its location and orbit so easily. Resources to extract aren't significant. What else?

> Resources to extract aren't significant.

Ateros is estimated at 1.25 trillion in profits [1] I really don't know what you base your opinions on, but science and economy it is not.

[1] http://www.asterank.com

> or the gas-giants' moons for science/the search for extraterrestrial life. And all of those are things that (for large values of `true`) only the US has the capability to do

Eh? If you mean probes, ESA and China are launching missions in the next year or so (Jupiter and Neptune respectively). If you mean _manned_ missions, no-one can do that, currently.

Fair point, though I still think that other nations (and I really do wish them every success!) have had a huge helping hand by leveraging the US's pioneering work on the engineering side. I guess my point is that the US ought to capitalise on the ever-decreasing edge it still has in knowing how to do this stuff, not in trying to reprise past glories for very little return.

> have had a huge helping hand by leveraging the US's pioneering work on the engineering side.

The same launcher that will launch JUICE (ESA's Jupiter moon probe) will launch NASA's James Webb space telescope, because NASA didn't have access to an appropriate American launcher (everything available at time of planning failed on either payload capacity by mass, payload capacity by volume, or reliability track record, AIUI, so Ariane it was) after decades of under-investment.

And most of NASA's highest profile missions this century launched on an Atlas V, which, while made in the US, uses rocket engines designed in the Soviet Union almost 50 years ago and made in Russia (incidentally, these are by some metrics still amongst the most capable kerosene rockets available; underinvestment in rocket engine design isn't _just_ a US thing).

Domestic commercial stuff may take over at some point, but for the moment, NASA is largely dependent on partially or entirely foreign launchers for its highest profile scientific launches.

> [...] I still think that other nations [...] have had a huge helping hand by leveraging the US's pioneering work on the engineering side

If you argue that way, one could just as well say that the US leveraged other nation's know-how to get into space in the first place... This idea also quickly falls apart if you'd just take a look at the pioneering work the Soviets did. Most of the firsts in space weren't done by the US.

As great as NASA was/is, not every great accomplishment was based on their work. The engineering side in particular was done independently and arguably better in some regards elsewhere (Soyuz for example, which incidentally is the basis for the manned Chinese capsules as well).

Do you really think there's anything only the US can do? I suspect China and the EU can do whatever the US can do in space exploration.

But I agree with you that it's unclear the value of going to the moon again.

> "Why the Moon?"

not in the industry, but since the domestic launch capability has been privatized and is still pretty unproven, i'd think that NASA would want to confirm/test/vet the procurement ecosystem and the new launch capability in incremental stages, much as they did for their own systems when things were in-house.

So yes, the US has been to the moon before, but it hasn't been to the moon with these particular fully outsourced launch platforms yet.

The moon is incredibly strategic for off-world manufacturing. This is where the next generation of massive ships must be built and launched. It is also a good dumping ground for resources taken from asteroids. We need the moon.

> More usefully, I'd ask, "Why the Moon?"

Just a guess, but maybe it's because this president seems obsessed with editing himself into the narrative of numerous political and national news events that were historically significant during the early adulthood-middle age years of boomer-era folks like himself. Thus the effort to bring about personally-styled reduxes of the moon landing, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iran crisis, the cold war, SDI, etc. All of these make up the notion of the "again" referred to in his slogan. Compare the focus on "American" story points of this period to how little he seems interested in events of similar significance that came into prominence after around 1990, other than opportunistically channeling the outrage of his base over anything connected to Clinton.

No way whatsoever.

NASA will get itself tied in politics and paperwork, NASA's contractors will take in as much money as possible, while doing not very much work, and Musk will 'aim' for 2024, but be closer to 2042.

We barely have the capability to put people in LEO reliably but you think we're landing on the moon in 4 years? Seems ludicrous.

I wouldn't be surprised if Musk did it just to show he can.

The man has already launched a car into space as a stunt.

Somewhat related. One of my favotrite What If: "Lunar Swimming" https://what-if.xkcd.com/124/

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