Since 1972 And Waiting, But Fantasies of Mars?

It was in 1972 that the last man walked on the moon. Eugene (Gene) Cernan.

Eugene Cernan: Last Man on the Moon
By Elizabeth Howell, Contributor | January 16, 2017 04:17pm ET

Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon. He visited the moon’s neighborhood twice, aboard Apollo 10 and Apollo 17, and also did a challenging spacewalk aboard Gemini 9.

While he chose not to fly in the shuttle program, Cernan remained involved in space as a motivational speaker and sometime television commentator who worked on ABC broadcasts about the space shuttle. He died on January 16, 2017.
For all mankind

As Cernan prepared to climb up the lunar ladder for the last time, he paused and spoke these words:

“As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

He and his crewmates returned to Earth on Dec. 19, 1972.

So a few days from now it will be 45 years. Anyone under that age has never been alive when a person was on the moon. It would take at least 5 more years to get back there IFF we were actively trying. But we are only really at the talking about stage. I suspect the next people to walk on the moon will arrive from Asia.

But there is some small hope.

Trump has said he wants us to return.

Trump wants to return to the moon. A Purdue alumnus, Gene Cernan, was there last
Nate Chute, IndyStar Published 6:59 p.m. ET Dec. 11, 2017 | Updated 9:41 a.m. ET Dec. 13, 2017

It’s been 45 years since a Boilermaker took the last human steps on a surface outside of the Earth. If President Donald Trump gets his way, he won’t be the last.

This week, the U.S. President signed a presidential order to direct NASA to prepare a return to the moon, a move seen as a launchpad to further exploration of Mars.

The order tells NASA to partner with U.S. aerospace companies that already started to develop their own lunar missions. During the Cold War, the space agency looked to military pilots to take them into space.

But both Boeing and Elon Musk have their eyes on making a Mars landing (and the history books / front page press).

Boeing says it will beat SpaceX to Mars

Dave Mosher
Oct. 6, 2016, 1:04 PM 23,698

Less than a week after SpaceX founder Elon Musk detailed his vision to get people to Mars, a rival aerospace company has intimated that it plans to beat Musk (and everyone else) to the punch.

However, Musk is probably OK with that.

Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing (one of SpaceX’s biggest competitors) casually loosed the remark during a session of The Atlantic’s “What’s Next?” conference.

“I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said during the recorded event.

The the schedules seem to evaporate as soon as they are spoken. The above link has Musk saying launches in 2018 to get things started, about 2020 to Mars. Yet already the Boeing schedule (that is supposed to beat him there) is looking way out to 2030.

Boeing Eyes Moon-Orbiting Space Station as Waypoint to Mars
By Douglas Messier, Contributor | September 27, 2016 02:30pm ET
Boeing’s plan involves assembling the station between 2021 and 2025 by using payload space available on five launches of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. The five components of the station include two habitat modules, an airlock, a logistics module, and a power bus and augmentation module. [5 Manned Mission to Mars Ideas]

Elbon spoke about the company’s ambitious plans at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2016 meeting in Long Beach, California.

Crews would spend the rest of the 2020s evaluating environmental control and life support, habitability, logistics, operational procedures and vehicle systems in the radiation-rich environment of deep space, Elbon said.

Under the Boeing plan, a mission to Mars orbit would follow in the early 2030s, with a landing on the surface to follow in the mid- to late 2030s.

Comfortably beyond the tenure of anyone likely to be on the hook for voting funding… and with a tidy dozen years of profits in the bank as contracts are rolled over.

I do hope someone, anyone, gets things going in space again. But even the Chinese are shooting at the 2030s for a moon landing.

April 29, 2016 / 12:15 AM / 2 years ago
China aims for manned moon landing by 2036

Reuters Staff

BEIJING (Reuters) – China wants to put astronauts on the moon by 2036, a senior space official said, the latest goal in China’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

So a 20 year wait ahead for them to get there.

Is it really that hard to re-invent technology that’s 1/2 century old?

Remember that Apollo was designed years before it first flew, based on the best ideas from the 1940s Nazi rocket builders. I know it was a technical feat to do it in the 1960s, but we DID do it. Did nobody save a copy of the plans?

Is the best this generation can do but to try to make a copy of something from the post World War II generation?

I’d really expected (then) that we would be able to book commercial trips to the Moon, and have asteroid mining of precious metals in quantity, all by about 20 years ago. Others thought that too. ( It is 2001 A Space Odyssey, not 2040 A Space Attempt after all…)

I guess I’m still gullible, though. I keep reading those stories and thinking “This time for sure!”… but please, guys, try to get it done in the next decade. I don’t think I’ll have much more than that of fully functional time to enjoy the show and process (and certainly not going to be able to go myself in 20 years).

I find myself thinking “I would have liked to have seen Montana” (Hunt For Red October) as a theme for our lunar efforts since 1972… “I would have like to have seen Mare Smythii”…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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12 Responses to Since 1972 And Waiting, But Fantasies of Mars?

  1. John F. Hultquist says:

    Various life expectancy sites and family history suggest if the Moon and Mars are not visited by 2030 I won’t notice.
    About the “asteroid mining of precious metals” – –
    This has never made sense to me. Unless an element or compound is not available on Earth, including ocean water, in the amount needed (Cobalt ?) what will drive the price high enough to find and bring it back from space? How does one land 10,000 tons or 100,000 tons of a mixture of things — that still has to be processed at a specific site? Not just once, but month after month — year after year? Am I the only skeptic?
    An argument for processing sea water for minerals and H2O makes better sense.

  2. Chris in Calgary says:

    For all the romantic space opera, there’s a reason humans have never left the confines of the earth-moon system.

    It’s really, really inhospitable out there. Also, it’s really hard to launch enough stuff to keep humans alive out there.

    The radiation is so intense outside the Earth’s magnetic field that the astronauts’ bodies would be irradiated and break down. Protection requires a huge amount of mass (e.g. water), or some other technology that we haven’t developed yet. Weightlessness causes the cardiovascular system and muscles to atrophy. Not to mention that bacteria grow faster, change behaviour, and become more deadly in space.

    And there’s a host of other issues:

    We evolved on the Earth. We ain’t adapting to another environment anytime soon. Sorry.

    Maybe in the next fifty years someone will make a one-way trip to Mars so we can say some human stood on the surface one time. But surviving and returning are mere pipe dreams, until we come up with technology that’s way, way more advanced than what we have today.

  3. beththeserf says:

    ‘Protection requires a huge amount of mass (e.g. water), or some other technology
    that we haven’t developed yet. Weightlessness causes the cardiovascular system
    and muscles to atrophy. Not to mention that bacteria grow faster, change behaviour,
    and become more deadly in space.’

    Here’s a theme for another Asimov sci-fi tale.

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    IIRC it was Heinlein who did a series of space opera type stories about the perils of space. He even covered the particular precision of thought needed for things like realizing you can’t get from point A to point B if you have used too much reaction mass or have too little stores aboard, and that might need to be realized months in advance before you do the maneuver that puts you in that dead zone… Too much “delta V” and you are dead, if it is in the wrong direction or without the right timing.


    Yet we have done it, many times. On other planetary surfaces, like Mars or the Moon, there’s plenty of mass for radiation protection, and an easy light weight-from-Earth construction possible with just sealing rock tunnels (or lunar concrete). Also the partial earth gravity solves the zero-G issues. Running a colony on the Moon is much much easier than doing it in free space.

    Per “Mass from Earth”: The answer to that is to use mass already in space. There’s lots, and a significant part of it is, basically, stainless steel and titanium ore. Great materials for making space ships.

    @John F. Hultquist:

    How to get mined asteroid material to Earth? That’s one of the very easiest things. Using solar mirrors, heat and melt the metallic asteroids (start with the little ones…) and then form them into a lifting body shape. Apply the right delta-V to cause it to enter a deorbit trajectory and then wait. Personally, I’d use a rail gun for that.

    The reason to mine asteroids and lunar surface materials is mostly to support the folks already in space. Lifted from the earth, materials run about $10,000 / lb. BUT, there are some asteroids that are essentially already refined metals. Good ones at that. A nickle iron (like stainless steel), some platinum group, and then others like gold. For those, the “shape and deorbit” means we can stop digging giant holes in the earth to find ppm grade ores for those metals. Price to produce from space, once doing it at scale, ought to be very good.

    It is very easy to deorbit “stuff” to the same place, time after time. Shape it right, and the rest is mostly just precision in initial speed and angle. Better engineers than me have already worked out the process and say it is doable. For things like lunar titanium, the processing would be done on the lunar surface. Much easier to heat with high intensity sun light and much easier to degas while avoiding oxidation in a vacuum. The major unclear part being what reducing agent would be used (as coal is scarce on the Moon…) I’ve seen one reference saying hydrogen could be used. This one says no need. (It gave me a cert warning for unknown issuer, but is unlikely to be a spoofed site…) It might be as simple as separating the existing iron from the dirt. Grinding and magnets come to mind…

    Click to access 05_1_SNoble_TheLunarRegolith.pdf

    Note: npFe is nano-particulate metallic iron. It has a superscript 0 in the article indicating zero ionization / charge but that screwed up the cut / paste.

    Several examples of npFe bearing rims can be found in Figure 11. Unlike the agglutinates, it appears that hydrogen isn’t necessary to reduce the Fe here; the temperatures reached in vaporization are so high that the Fe will separate without the presence of a reducing agent. Soil rims are quite common in mature lunar soils, with up to 90% of grains bearing rims (Keller et al., 2000). The size of iron blebs in npFe bearing rims is, on average, considerably smaller than is found in agglutinates and confined to a much narrower size range. Averaging about 3 nm in diameter, they range from roughly 1 to 15 nm in rims (Keller and Clement, 2001), compared to the tens to hundreds of nm diameter of grains found in agglutinates. By volume, the majority of the metallic iron in lunar soils can be found in the agglutinates; however, because the iron in the rims is surface correlated, it can often have a bigger impact on the physical and optical properties than the volume correlated iron in the agglutinates.

    Needs work to make it practical? Sure. But it has generally been my experience that the folks who say it can’t be done, have not asked the engineers to take a while to look at it and see what they can figure out. Our entire technical history consists of things that could not be done, right up until they could; or were too expensive right up until they weren’t. I’m not willing to constrain our future to what we have done in the past.

  5. cdquarles says:

    With respect to the Saturn V and the lunar modules, if I am not mistaken, many or all of the original blueprints were lost. But, and it is a big one, a spare Saturn V was recently scanned and completed several years ago such that a 3D printer can make the parts. I have not heard that the lunar modules were copied; but those, being smaller, could be scanned in a much shorter period of time. The tricky part is that the welding knowledge may also have been lost. There were no robotic welders for one-offs in those days. They were all done by humans. The Space Museum near Redstone Arsenal has one of each, if I am not mistaken. There was one Saturn V near a visitor’s center near the AL-TN border just of I65. It was definitely there in 2007, when I was living in Huntsville.

  6. philjourdan says:

    For all the bad things proclaimed about the “cold war”, it drove us (and the Russians) to accomplish things in a very short time that were not thought achievable. It was a rivalry, and in that, is when man excels. Not in participation trophies. But with real winners and losers.

    We lost that. And I do not see any generation reclaiming it in the near future. At least well beyond my years.

  7. pouncer says:

    “It was a rivalry, and in that, is when man excels. Not in participation trophies. But with real winners and losers. We lost that. And I do not see any generation reclaiming it in the near future.”

    The competition between Musk and Bezos doesn’t qualify?

  8. John F. Hultquist says:

    things that could not be done, right up until they could
    Aluminum comes to mind — starting with prior to the Washington Monument to F150s.
    However, insofar as the theme of the post is “But we are only really at the talking about stage.” —
    we are one hellofa long ways from getting an asteroid into a lifting body shape and then applying the right delta-V to cause it to enter a deorbit trajectory. Proof of concept is likely beyond my life, and practical application is farther out.

  9. jim2 says:

    One use for robots that I might actually like is to set up the habitat on Mars. Get it going, test it, if it fails, the robot doesn’t care, just keeps going. Let the robots get it right, then move some people there with food, water, and shelter ready to roll.

  10. Wayne Job says:

    This may be an odd thing to say for many, but if we wish to learn our real history the moon and Mars is a good starting point.

  11. agimarc says:

    The most valuable asteroid material to mine would be water ice. This is the bootstrapping concept. If you can find water, you also have rocket fuel, atmosphere, media to grow things in, and radiation shielding (it’s why water is used around reactor cores). John Lewis years (decades?) ago noted that half of the earth crossing asteroids were likely extinct comets, which in turn means they are high in volatile content. Some of them are as close as the moon in terms of delta-v, though flight times will be long. You can use them like stepping stones on the way to Mars or farther out. Best of all, the farther away from the sun you get, the more ice you find. Biggest drawback is an operable large caliber reactor (in the many hundreds of megawatt thermal range). Cheers –

  12. philjourdan says:

    @Pouncer – yes. But they have more limited resources than the US Government did.

    The fact that the competition is so new is why we are talking about it now as a future event, instead of a past event.

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