Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Robert Zubrin on why you should never let governments plan manned space exploration

Robert Zubrin is effectively THE expert on potential human exploration and colonization of Mars.

That's why his opinion of current NASA plans is both so biting and so important:
As the centerpiece for its future human spaceflight program, NASA proposes to build another space station, this one located not in low Earth orbit but at the L2 Lagrange point just above the far side of the Moon. This plan is indeed remarkable in as much as an L2 space station would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. We don’t need an L2 space station to go back to the Moon. We don’t need an L2 space station to go to near-Earth asteroids. We don’t need an L2 space station to go to Mars. We don’t need an L2 space station for anything.
 One has to wonder how much further along the whole space exploration enterprise might be, on a global basis, if it hadn't been tied to both national defenses and governmental monopolies.


Delaware Watch said...

Why do I suspect that the essential qualification for this man to be "THE" expert is that he is critical of government planned space Missions?

Nice of you to provide the link but alas THE expert bases his criticism in large part on something a governmental agency did extraordinarily well: the soft landing ability of the Curiosity mission.

Perhaps you can discover a new THE expert who can criticize even that.

Steven H. Newton said...


It is legitimately my fault for neglecting the link the Robert Zubrin (and I do not have it this second) but he is very much an establishment scientist who has been working on scenarios for manned Mars exploration for thirty years. Your surmise would be wrong: he has only soured on NASA's manned exploration wing in the past 4-5 years.

I made a clear distinction in the post regarding manned exploration and robotic exploration. Sorry that you don't get that.

Steven H. Newton said...

And, Dana, do you even understand what a LaGrange Point is, let alone why virtually every reasonable proposal for such a space station that has previously been made (include internal NASA proposals) has centered around L4 and L5, not L2?

Or are you just assuming, as usual, that the government is always right?

Duffy said...


As far as I can see the main problem is one of cost/benefit. Currently, if there were neatly stacked bars of gold bullion on the surface of the moon it would still be a net loser to go get them. I understand there will be technologies developed along the way that would be money makers but how do you propose to make this lucrative? What about the Van Allen belt problem? Long term weightlessness problem?

Steven H. Newton said...


There's actually a crapload of research on all of these issues right now.

Micrc-G manufacturing in LEO has been studied extensively and profitable ventures, especially with imprinting circuits on microchips do potentially exist.

There are potential answers to the weightlessness problem being studied now, and the best argument for L4/L5 colonies is active research into the long-term sustainability of mostly closed eco-systems.

As for bars of gold on the Moon, I'd be very interested in meeting the people you got to stack them, but . . .

. . . they could be shipped back very economically if you take the time to build a catapult . . .

My primary argument is this: if manned space exploration was market-driven, we would have each step at the time it became profitable, and we wouldn't be paying the massive overhead we are paying now, year in and year out. . . .

As far as "pure science" robotic missions, I'm OK with leaving that to the government

tom said...

L2 isn't even a stable equilibrium (unlike L4 & L5). I station placed there would have to burn fuel to maintain it's position.