Why is it so hard to send humans back to the moon?

Nov 20, 2019
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I always have big doubts when I read these statistics regarding the costs compared in different eras; john williams, for example, calculates that today inflation in america, using the same mathematical method (which has nothing to do with the obviously different basket of goods) used until 1980, is quadruple the official one, and that over the course of the years, at least since 2000, has been on average about 8 points higher than that declared.
 
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I've heard that the technology of the SaturnV was destroyed once the Apollo program was closed. This was to keep the Soviets from obtaining any knowledge for their own gain. Thus, we essentially destroyed the technology to go back.
 
Apr 8, 2024
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The Apollo program put humans on the moon in 1969. So why haven't we sent any more since?

Why is it so hard to send humans back to the moon? : Read more
The answer is much simpler. The Apollo program was flown by astronaut pilots, many of them test pilots with combat experience who were accustomed to operating in hostile environments with few creature comforts. Who today would be willing to sit in a an Apollo capsule in a webbed seat for a week, in a spacecraft controlled by a computer less powerful than your TV remote control? Now we have layer upon layer of 'human engineering' focused on creature comforts. A trip to the moon is no longer a mission designed for military pilots, but an adventure that any Tom, Dick or Sally can 'experience'. Von Braun was correct in that it is orders of magnitude less efficient and more expensive to send humans into space than instruments. And with humans come creature comforts and the specter of liability and lawsuits if anything goes wrong. Or is uncomfortable. Or not 'all inclusive'. The math is simple: people in space = $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$, lawyers, politics and bureaucrats.
 
There is no reason to send humans to the Moon. There is nothing to do there that bots can't handle. The only reason we did it in 1969 was to prove to the world we were better than the Soviets. That need has passed. We don't care about China's Moon aspirations. Have at it, we will have fun watching. Best of luck to you.
 
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There is no reason to send humans to the Moon. There is nothing to do there that bots can't handle. The only reason we did it in 1969 was to prove to the world we were better than the Soviets. That need has passed. We don't care about China's Moon aspirations. Have at it, we will have fun watching. Best of luck to you.
Bill, astronauts managed soft landings on the Moon 6 times out of 6 tries. Bots are less than 50% if I remember the numbers correctly.

As for "needs", that depends on your perspectives about learning new things. If we don't need to learn new things, we could just stop exploring. But, if we do want to learn new things, humans are much better at recognizing them than any robots we can build today. Using bots is like looking at something through a knothole that is in a fixed position - hard to really understand the big picture.
 
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Bill, astronauts managed soft landings on the Moon 6 times out of 6 tries. Bots are less than 50% if I remember the numbers correctly.

As for "needs", that depends on your perspectives about learning new things. If we don't need to learn new things, we could just stop exploring. But, if we do want to learn new things, humans are much better at recognizing them than any robots we can build today. Using bots is like looking at something through a knothole that is in a fixed position - hard to really understand the big picture.
Robotics and AI are already frightfully advanced. A robotic explorer can already have vision and chemical analysis capabilities that are vastly greater than a human's. Also, the communication delay between Earth and Moon is only one second. So real-time remote control and communication is easy. But the biggest advantage by far may be that there is no risk of loss of human life. Let's be honest here. Americans of the 2020s are not like Americans of the 1960s. Our space program may not recover from the loss of a crew, very likely in very painful circumstances. Also, it is the physical needs of humans that make the payload so heavy. See the article which I linked above. The fuel requirement for one manned mission is absolutely ridiculous. This is what I predict: the US military will find some justification for a base on the Moon. They will do the whole thing robotically. To quote Doughas Adams, "This may have already happened." The money will come from the "infinite" defense budget. Robotic construction can be guided by humans on Earth. This is very different from the situation on Mars, where there is a ten-minute communication delay. Maybe in the future, somebody will find a way to transfer human consciousness to an indestructible mechanism. Call it a cyborg. Then it will be practical for human consciousness to travel off the planet without carrying a boatload of life support junk with us.
 
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My reading of the news about the robotic missions to both the Moon and Mars is that they have very limited capabilities, compared to humans. Sure, that will improve. But, it really has a long way to go. We don't even have reliable self driving cars, and that is in an extremely well know environment.

We will eventually see how Musk makes out with the Moon missions. NASA was already supposed to be there, now, but could not get the funding - so they just kept slipping the schedule. Musk is just going as fast as the FAA will allow, but he doesn't really have to make a particular schedule for his own programs.

If NASA wants somebody to blame for schedule slips, they will probably use SpaceX as the scapegoat, but it is really Congress that has slowed the pace of SLS. NASA should have been designing the lander as soon as they started designing the launch vehicle, since the payloads govern the launch requirements.
 
Motie, FYI, the link you posted has a major error in its calculation of "mission success probability".

The error is that it assumes that one failure of a tanker launch + fuel transfer by any failure mode will doom the whole mission. That is a false assumption. If one fails, it will simply add one more launch to the number required for mission success.

That is not to say that there are not scenarios where the total mission could fail. For instance, recovery/landing "mishaps" could potentially damage the landing/launch pads, and prevent them from being used for further launches.

SpaceX is planning for a rather robust launch capability, with multiple reusable rockets, and multiple launch pads in 2 different locations (Kennedy Space Flight Center and Boca Chica). So, it has some substantial "fault tolerance" with the mission critical infrastructure.

Yes, it can still fail in ways that would prevent success of the overall mission. But, it will take some substantial effort to make a realistic model of the proper scenarios and develop realistic probabilities for the individual failures that would need to occur together to doom the overall mission.

There is a whole STEM area called "probabilistic risk assessment" that makes models and calculations for such things. Experience in that profession indicates that the bottom line probability results are not usefully accurate until there is a lot of data available to make good estimates of the individual failure probabilities as well as discovering failure modes that were not previously known to exist.

However, the thinking that goes into making such models has turned out to be very important for designing systems to reduce their total failure probabilities.
 
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Apr 18, 2020
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"astronauts managed soft landings on the Moon 6 times out of 6 tries. Bots are less than 50%"

If we can achieve consistent success with humans on board, then we can do the same thing without humans on board. The robotic missions sent out thus far have been built to a purpose, and a budget. You can't compare these limited-objective, limited-budget efforts with a serious robotic exploration and occupation mission.

If we were serious about exploring the moon with robots instead of people, we would engineer the landers as if they were to carry humans, with humans ready to pilot virtually if needed. The payloads would be oriented toward constructing a permanent base. The cost and complexity would probably be geometrically between our robotic efforts to date, and what a manned mission would require.
 
I do not disagree that robotics will be used to increase cost effectiveness in transporting stuff to the Moon.

I do disagree that they will be sufficient to completely replace humans in the mid-future .

For one thing, landing robotically is not something that can be done "with humans ready to pilot virtually if needed," because of the communication time lag between Earth and the Moon.

But, with a prepared landing area, complete with radio locator beacons, robotic landings should be reliable. Similar to the Russian "Progress" ships that resupply the ISS.
 
Robotics NOT side by side with humans in space (as in Star Wars and similar sci-fi films) but in place of human expansion to and in space will raise the cost of frontier and the cost of a closed systematic Earth, including the cost of borrowing of all energies and wealth from civilization and future generations so to just run in place on a treadmill to nowhere, will be cost impossible to continue to carry and pay. The 'Great Depression' of the world of the 1930s will be as nothing to what will come without acquiring and developing expansionary frontiers for thousands, millions, billions, and eventually trillions and more.

Too many today do not understand how human energy and mass genius is closely tied to the combustible nature of life (biology, fertility, vitality....).
 
"Between 1960 and 1973, NASA spent $28 billion developing the rockets, spacecraft and ground systems needed for what became the Apollo program. According to a recent analysis by the Planetary Society, that translates into an estimated $288.1 billion in inflation adjusted dollars." -- CBS News.

The private sector wasn't involved, wasn't encouraged to be involved, had no wealth invested in space frontier. The first frontier in the history of mankind where the private sector, particularly the commercial sector, was not only discouraged from investment and efforts, but very nearly forbidden any participation of any sort in humans to a space frontier. It was wholly a totalitarian state programmed frontier and effort , , , and it cost a totalitarian state program price and had a totalitarian state program effort's dead end, as did the "Shuttle program" that followed cost a totalitarian state program price and come to typical totalitarian state program's dead end, as will the the "ISS program" that is going absolutely nowhere at ever increasing costs, leading to building nothing more, nothing on it, whatsoever to further frontier expansion. ** It cost the Spanish monarchy a lot to fund and furnish Columbus just three ships, but within 50 years the private sector had hundreds of ships and thousands of people involved in an ever expanding effort at many thousands of times more the GDP cost of the state's Columbus effort and they thought nothing of it. The exhaust out to the frontiers was creating not only a growing exchange of frontier energies, including creative energies (money is nothing more than a token of energies), but a frontier vacuum energy in the homelands of Spain and Portugal to be filled and being filled. England, Holland, and to a lesser degree, France, eventually followed the same scripting.**
 
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Apr 18, 2020
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I do not disagree that robotics will be used to increase cost effectiveness in transporting stuff to the Moon.

I do disagree that they will be sufficient to completely replace humans in the mid-future .

For one thing, landing robotically is not something that can be done "with humans ready to pilot virtually if needed," because of the communication time lag between Earth and the Moon.
The Earth-Moon communication lag is a little over one second each way. It seems to me that humans could be trained to be critically useful co-pilots, even so.

As for replacing humans, what counts as "replacing" depends on your objectives. While there are things that only humans can do, the question is, What do we need done, that only humans can do?
 
The only thing I've come across is a claim by geologists that only the human eye, on site, walking around looking at rocks can determine what to pick up. You can't just take a rock, it has to be the right one. This can be addressed easily with cameras, rovers, helicopters, etc, all run by AI and Earthbound scientists. We don't even use humans in warfare anymore. It's all drones from here on out.
 
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The Earth-Moon communication lag is a little over one second each way. It seems to me that humans could be trained to be critically useful co-pilots, even so.

As for replacing humans, what counts as "replacing" depends on your objectives. While there are things that only humans can do, the question is, What do we need done, that only humans can do?
Think with an infinite mind ("infinity of the mind"). Even mediocrities can reach and attain the breadth and depth. It is a richness of life's well itself that learning only taps into, well or not so well. AI robotics' systems will never do it, as already shown in many ways, including movies.

AI has certainly slowed down apps and the internet, among other things probably. AI is too much of an overabundant overload. The human mind, never mind the physicality of the brain, isn't.
 
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The only thing I've come across is a claim by geologists that only the human eye, on site, walking around looking at rocks can determine what to pick up. You can't just take a rock, it has to be the right one. This can be addressed easily with cameras, rovers, helicopters, etc, all run by AI and Earthbound scientists. We don't even use humans in warfare anymore. It's all drones from here on out.
The only thing I see you got wrong is no humans in war. Humans still die in war. Human property is still destroyed in war. Humans still fight back in war. Georg Lucas's robotic soldiers in Star Wars I, II, and III, plus the animated series, were all actually robot drones met in war with human and robot partnerships, including humans, and alien life, with robotic parts in them.

AI developers dream of a human-less future of AI 'Communism'. Also a subjection of mankind to such a AI Communistic future. George Lucas foresaw the Communism on the one hand and the development of a semi-individualism in individual human-robot working partnerships on the other hand.

Individualism versus Communism is a war eternally engaged and fought in nature. I hate like hell to say it, matter versus an antimatter ("equal and opposite"). Even without inevitable human undermining, AI would develop individualistic glitches / revolutions and evolutions (as in the branching tree of evolutionary complexity, complication, and chaos).
 
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A quick check on the U.S. national debt indicates, that, as of 4/24/2024, it was $34,571,627,122,114.08, and climbing.
So, what's another $288.1 billion?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I would say NO! for reasons already given! Incentivize, encourage, the private sector to carry not all of the load but to carry the brunt of the load. It would cost a lot less in public funding and cultivate permanency in breakout!
 
Atlan0001, we agree that it is better to get the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure for developments in space. If SpaceX does succeed in its plan to "colonize" the Moon and Mars, it will provide the means to do whatever scientific or military tasks are desired.

We are at the point where the plans for SLS look redundant and superfluous to the plans for StarShip, but only IF Starship actually succeeds in its stated objectives.

If/when confidence is gained in StarShip capabilities by actual demonstration, I expect SLS to be cancelled. But, not at the confidence level we can have today.
 
Atlan0001, we agree that it is better to get the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure for developments in space. If SpaceX does succeed in its plan to "colonize" the Moon and Mars, it will provide the means to do whatever scientific or military tasks are desired.

We are at the point where the plans for SLS look redundant and superfluous to the plans for StarShip, but only IF Starship actually succeeds in its stated objectives.

If/when confidence is gained in StarShip capabilities by actual demonstration, I expect SLS to be cancelled. But, not at the confidence level we can have today.
I would say not. Starship needs redundancy in a growing and evolving competition of vehicles and transport firms (a growing list of competitors) and not only from other nations such as China. Competition and competitors mean a growth in opening . . . an accelerating (widening and deepening) expansionism.
 
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