Jessica Watkins: First Geologist on Mars?

Guest “what a journey that would be” by David Middleton

Hat tip to Mrs. Middleton…

NEWS Q&A 19 MAY 2020
The first footprints on Mars could belong to this geologist
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is at the forefront of a new crop of space explorers destined for the Moon, and maybe one day, Mars.
Alexandra Witze

Jessica Watkins spent her PhD studying landslides on Mars. Now she is among the few humans with a shot at being the first to walk on the red planet.

In January, Watkins graduated as a member of NASA’s newest astronaut class. As a planetary geologist, she is a leading candidate to participate in the agency’s Artemis programme, which aims to send people back to the Moon by the end of 2024. Further down the line — Watkins is only 32 years old — there might even be a trip to Mars.


What kind of training did your astronaut class get in field geology?
That was one of the most fun parts for me. We went to New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and a lot of the locations where the Apollo guys trained. We were literally following in their footsteps. We went to lots of lava flows, just really trying to get a good understanding of what types of rocks we may encounter and how to observe and document them — learning just enough skills to enable scientists here on the ground to do their own investigations with the data the crew are obtaining.


NASA astronaut Jessica Watkin
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins in a spacesuit during training.Credit: David DeHoyos/NASA
HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon covered the field geology training of the Apollo astronauts in Episode 10, Galileo Was Right.

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May 21, 2020 2:31 am

This is spectacular. Thank you Jessica for that.

Reply to  Sidiki Diarra
May 21, 2020 10:33 pm

No doubt she’ll be labelled as “acting white”, an “Uncle Tom”, ‘abandoning her people’.

Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 2:52 am

The US economy is in the toilet and these people want to spend trillions of dollars of other people’s money to go plant a flag on another planet. What is wrong with them?

It’s such a delusional goal at this point. The science can be done cheaper and faster by robots but, I guess there’s no “glory” for politicians to mooch off if it’s done that way.

If they were serious about advancing human space travel, they’d start by building a permanent space station orbiting the moon. Even that seems a bit far-fetched, given that they haven’t managed to build a station with artificial gravity in Earth orbit yet.

Ron Long
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 3:06 am

Go back to the mid-1960’s where you belong, and see who buys your comments (then and now). I hope Astronaut-traniee Dr. Jessica Watkins makes sure the ticket is two-way. Good luck to the whole program.

Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 10:26 am

Well, James T Kirk & crew did indeed kill Apollo by phasoring his power-source/building…… 😉

Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 4:41 pm

The moon is only a couple days away by rocket. Mars? Six to eight months. Humans need food, water, radiation shielding, all kinds of bulky and expensive life support equipment. Robots? Not so much. There have been several successful robotic missions to Mars, but here’s the catch: only one way. The gravity of mars is more than twice that of the moon so it requires hauling a lot more fuel (and weight) to Mars to launch a lander off the surface of Mars back to Earth; something that has never been done even for a “simple” sample-and-return mission to bring back some dirt or rocks.

I would be surprised if humans land on Mars in the next 50 years.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Ron Long
May 21, 2020 8:03 am

Ron Long,

“Astronaut-traniee…” Part of the new, gender-fluid NASA?

But seriously, there is no way that anyone can ” makes sure the ticket is two-way” when it comes to space travel. Just ask the crew of Columbia. Oh wait…

Apollo was a tremendous achievement and it helped humanity advance our knowledge of human space travel. We now know it is immensely expensive and very dangerous to send humans into space; and, we know the further we send people, the more expensive and dangerous it is. That’s why no one has been back to the moon since Apollo.

As I understand it, it takes at least $10,000 to put 1 kilogram into a low earth orbit. As long as that’s the case, it’s cheaper and smarter to send robots instead of people. When the cost comes down to $1000 per kilo or less, then maybe human spaceflight will be something more than an overly expensive boondoggle.

If anyone wants to compare the advancement of science by human spaceflight with what robots have done, the robots win by every metric. Sure, humans have been to the moon but, robots have been to every planet in the system. Plus, more robots have landed on the moon than humans. Whatever humans have done in space, robots have done more for longer (with the exceptions of breathing, eating and sh*tting). And, thanks to advances in sensor technology and computers, the robots are getting better with every mission.

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. All hail Skynet!

Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 10:40 am

The people that think robots can do everything better than humans are limited by their own specific perspective.

The things that ‘they’ (the robot advocates) do day in and day out can be done by robots; ‘they’ are the ones that are replaceable.

John Tillman
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 10:49 am

I’m afraid that young Dr. Watkins will be disappointed. I doubt that we’ll make the 2033 launch window, and she’ll probably be too old in 2048. IMO we’ll have to send generations of robots before people. Probes can be made smarter in order to act at least as geological aides, sending back info on rock prospects. Getting the samples back to Earth, Moon or space station will be tricky, if there be microbes.

The most that we can afford in the next couple of decade, IMO, is a return to the Moon, with either a base there or lunar orbiting space station. Either would be a good place to analyze Mars rocks in an offworld BSL-5 lab. Maybe on the Moon, with quarantines on both the lunar and Earth-orbiting space stations.

Eventually the Moon could be a lower-gravity jumping off point for a manned (personned?) mission to Mars, possibly with people orbiting and sending down landers to explore the surface. The Moon could also be mined for materials to make fuel.

Have often been wrong, but I don’t see humans on Mars before 2050, if then. Possibly 2065, with robotic engineers digging sub-Martian habitation in the intervening 15 years. If there be no microbes.

Should life be found there in the coming decade, then humanity will have to decide whether terraforming Mars is more important than preserving and studying indigenous Martians.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  John Tillman
May 21, 2020 11:50 am

“The most that we can afford in the next couple of decade, IMO, is a return to the Moon”

I think that is a pretty good prediction about the U.S. space program. A decade or so getting it together in the Earth/Moon system. Then on to Mars.

Of course, someone like Musk can come along and maybe focus on Mars and put some people there within the next decade or two, also.

Musk is going to launch U.S. astronauts to the space station on May 27, 2020. The U.S. has been dependent on Russia to get us into low-Earth orbit for too many years, but we aim to end that on May 27, if all goes well.

Reply to  John Tillman
May 21, 2020 11:55 am

Should life be found there in the coming decade, then humanity will have to decide whether terraforming Mars is more important than preserving and studying indigenous Martians.

The mantra will be “Stop the landings, Save the Martian germs!”

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 21, 2020 8:03 pm


That’s what it would be.

However, with sufficient survey of whatever Martian microbes there might be, and conserving them, we could go ahead with terraforming the Red Planet, in hopes of turning it really Red, ie a refuge for freedom loving humanoids.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 22, 2020 1:00 pm


I’m not a big fan of subsidy farmer Musk, but hope he can advance private US space launching.

Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 3:46 am

Spend trillions of dollars? That’s easy, just print the money.

Sorry, I said ‘print’ , I meant ‘conjure out of thin air’.

Conjuring cash is just so modern and sophisticated. What could go wrong?

Reply to  Klem
May 21, 2020 10:56 am

Right, no need to print actual cash anymore — just add numbers into digital accounts.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Klem
May 21, 2020 11:52 am

Borrow the money at zero interest rates, on the Easy Payment Plan!

Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 5:29 am

It really is a peculiar, pathological obsession, and a sure sign that mankind will ultimately destroy itself.

John in Oz
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 6:12 am

If it were not for the developments in the past, a major part of which came from the space program, you would not have been able to post your doubts on this blog.

We all are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.

It’s fairly well-known that technology developed by NASA scientists routinely makes its way into products developed in the robotics, computer hardware and software, nanotechnology, aeronautics, transportation and health care industries. While the story that Tang, the bright orange powdered beverage, was developed for astronauts is just a myth, many other advancements – think micro-electromechanical systems, supercomputers and microcomputers, software and microprocessors – were also created using technology developed by NASA over the past half century.

Hubbard noted that overall, $7 or $8 in goods and services are still produced for every $1 that the government invests in NASA.

But the string of Apollo missions alone — which ran from the ill-fated, never-flown Apollo 1 mission in 1967 to Apollo 17, the last to land men on the moon, in 1972 – had a critical, and often overlooked impact on technology at a key time in the computer industry.

Daniel Lockney, the editor of Spinoff, NASA’s annual publication that reports on the use of the agency’s technologies in the private sector, said the advancements during the Apollo missions were staggering.

“There were remarkable discoveries in civil, electrical, aeronautical and engineering science, as well as rocketry and the development of core technologies that really pushed technology into the industry it is today,” he said. “It was perhaps one of the greatest engineering and scientific feats of all time. It was huge. The engineering required to leave Earth and move to another heavenly body required the development of new technologies that before hadn’t even been thought of. It has yet to be rivaled.”

Reply to  John in Oz
May 21, 2020 7:43 am

The myth that NASA was the source of many of the technologies that we use today is just another one of the lies NASA has used to justify their existence.
Every single technology used by NASA was already in existence in either the civilian or military economies.
The best that can be said of NASA is that it accelerated by a few months some of those technologies.

Computers already existed and those who built them were already investing in micro electronics because with them computers could be made smaller, faster and use orders of magnitude less power.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  MarkW
May 21, 2020 10:16 am

But, but, … There’s Tang and Space Sticks! What would we do without them? 🙂
[Actually, I think it has been years, if not decades, since one could buy Space Sticks.]

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 21, 2020 11:00 am
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 21, 2020 1:07 pm

busted the Tang myth several weeks ago in a comment here at WUWT. It was invented before NASA was formed, and the genius was in marketing it during the time the Mercury Seven were enjoying Rock-star cult status. The Space drink of astronauts.

Now the ISS astronauts can enjoy tangerine flavored sugar powder beverage rehydrated with recycled urine. Yummy.

Richard (the cynical one)
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 6:15 am

“want to spend trillions . . . What is wrong with them?” A detailed cost/benefit analysis of the space program kickstarted by JFK might give a clue or two as to the potential benefits. So many from that program were unexpected, unforeseen. If human kind cages itself with its fears instead of unlocking the door with its hopes, then we will deserve the imprisonment we choose.

Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 6:17 am


Tom Abbott
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 21, 2020 11:04 am

“It’s such a delusional goal at this point. The science can be done cheaper and faster by robots”

The ultimate purpose of the human space program is to enable humans to live and thrive in outer space and on other moons and planets as time goes along. Humans have to be present to do this. Robots cannot substitute.

One geologist on Mars is equivalent to about a thousand rovers (right Dave?). How much does a thousand rovers cost?.

Mark - Helsinki
Reply to  David Middleton
May 24, 2020 12:11 pm

Current forms of imaging tell us far more than middling geologists from 4 decades ago tbh

Joel Heinrich
May 21, 2020 2:52 am

“That was one of the most fun parts for me. We went to New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and a lot of the locations where the Apollo guys trained. We were literally following in their footsteps. We went to lots of lava flows, just really trying to get a good understanding of what types of rocks we may encounter and how to observe and document them — learning just enough skills to enable scientists here on the ground to do their own investigations with the data the crew are obtaining.”

why does it always sound like the astronauts have no idea what they are doing?

Ian Coleman
May 21, 2020 3:05 am

Back to the Moon? Why? It’s a big round rock in the sky, and nobody can stay on it for more than a few hours without having to leave. What did we miss the last time we were there, that we have to go back?

Going to the moon in the first place was a little like climbing Everest. We did it just to show off. President Kennedy said it right out loud” “We choose to go to the Moon, not because it is easy but because it is difficult.” To President Kennedy, that was a good reason. Since I’m the kind of guy who avoids difficult tasks, I’m at a loss to understand his reasoning.

Nobody’s going to Mars. Like, nobody. Not ever. Nobody’s going to Mars for the same general reason that nobody is going to open a maternity ward in Antarctica, or open a Starbucks in a giant bubble at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. So forget it.

Reply to  Ian Coleman
May 21, 2020 5:55 am

Why? Because there is something driving mankind to destroy itself. And that will happen because mankind doesn’t have the sense to follow the primary directive to treat itself well.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Ian Coleman
May 21, 2020 10:08 am

Much as I’m loathe to disappoint David Middleton, one of my favorite contributors and favorite geologists, I’m afraid that on this topic, I agree that sending a manned mission to Mars in the Apollo style, on a round trip journey to the red planet for a temporary visit, makes no sense. I don’t think that will ever be likely to happen.

That said, nothing would please me more than once again seeing American ingenuity applied to space travel, and researching and solving the problems of traveling to and Terra-forming and colonizing Mars. But that is a far future dream, and maybe a pipe dream at that. Decades of increasingly successful Biosphere III, IV, V and VI experiments will be needed first. Genetically engineered plant life will be needed at the Martian poles to help melt the ice caps, and perhaps find some water ice in the process, and produce a little oxygen. Some amazing nuclear fission or fusion systems will be needed for powering tunneling robots that dig safe, dust-sealed living environments into select Martian cliffs, and which can produce water and O2 from surrounding environs. A permanently manned base on the Moon will probably make a necessary staging area for staging of missions and sending one-way travelers. Leaving aside the problem of transport, none of that can possibly happen in the next few generations.

And then, let’s face it, there’s the huge and real problem of Western Civilization malaise. We are quite broke and in debt, divided, dispirited, uninspired, and faithless, as a culture. Before the public purse will be able to provide the research and development to make such a Herculean project as Martian colonization viable, we’ll need to solve the issues of public debt and public pensions. I mean, how can we justify going to Mars when California and Illinois and New Jersey and New York pension systems have statutory obligations to pay more money than we have to retired public sector workers? And fixing even that minor a level of problem in sustainability seems impossible, given the nearly perfect 50-50 divide in public vision for what government should be. I fear that before Mars is targeted, some large portion of our diseased public tax and retirement systems will need to die a horrible, painful death, followed hopefully by a renewed period of public inspiration and optimism for once again GROWING the human footprint in the solar system. Does anyone think that will happen as we are driving ourselves to insanity with the current hair shirts of reducing our populations, reducing our “carbon footprints” and reducing our impact on nature? Now that I think of it, perhaps giving disaffected Islamist radicals the promise of a unspoiled Caliphate on their own planet might make a suitable inducement to solve several problems at once. But if the West is conquered by the surreptitious and subversive infiltration mentioned in the North American mission statement of the Muslim Brotherhood, we are really in long-term trouble. And even we can figure out a way to save ideas like the American founding, of a working form of classical liberal, pluralistic government from the would be fascists of Progressivism, Islamic Wahabism, and corporate crony Oligarchic fascism, I’m not sure I see a viable path to public funding of fund grandiose public projects like colonizing Mars. And now, goddammit I’ve depressed myself…

Reply to  Mickey Reno
May 21, 2020 10:49 am

“I mean, how can we justify going to Mars when California and Illinois and New Jersey and New York pension systems have statutory obligations to pay more money than we have to retired public sector workers?”

How can we justify any (California and Illinois and New Jersey and New York and Oregon) pension systems that have statutory obligations to pay more money out, than we have, to retired public sector workers?

It appears that “We” can justify anything … question is will we.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  DonM
May 21, 2020 12:15 pm

When the Republicans win the presidency, and the House and the Senate ths time, they should offer to pay off the debts of these Blue States, on the condition that the Blue States agree to pass new laws mandating that those States balance their budgets every year. The details of holding the Blue States to their committments would need to be worked out. We don’t want them weasling out of the deal.

The reason I say we should do this is because, yes the Blue States have abused their taxpayers and have gotten themselves into their financial mess all by themselves, but if we saddle them with all that debt they accrued, and we are talking about big States with lots of economic activity, then their economic activity will be severely limited as compared to if they had no debt to service, and if these Blue States do well economically, the whole nation benefits from their increased economic activity.

The only way this could happen is if the Democrats are thrown out of power in Washington DC, in November.

If the Republicans can hold the presidency, and the House and Senate, then they can propose some version of the “Penny Plan” that will enable the nation to pay off all our debts within the lifetime of people now alive. We have added at least Three Trillion dollars to our debt with this Wuhan virus crisis, and getting the States out of bankruptcy will probably cost another Trillion, but even so, we can still pay this debt down within a reasonable timeframe.

It will never happen if the Democrats hold any power in Washington DC because the Penny Plan is about cutting spending, and Democrats have no interest in cutting spending. Their interest is in spending us into bankruptcy in an effort to buy our votes.

I know it’s controversial to suggest paying off the bad debts of the Blue States, but if it ultimately benefits the whole nation, and puts curbs on the Blue State out-of-control spending, and is combined with a plan to pay down the nation’s debt, then I think it is at least worth considering.

Wouldn’t you just love to dictate economic terms to the Blue States!? I would. That would be worth a Trillion! 🙂

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 1:18 pm

The states generally do balance their budgets every year. They can’t print money like US Treasury-Fed system, by having the Fed buy the paper in printing money scheme. The States can borrow on the bond market, but ratings from the bond ratings agencies can be brutal if the states don’t demonstrate a guaranteed revenue stream to pay back the bond holders. So the states have to identify a revenue stream, usually by increasing a tax or feee somewhere to pay the bonds back. Thus bond sales are nothing more than tax increases. And if a state starts to look shaky and tax collections are set to fall (as they are now with so many state’s continuing to keep theuir economies on life-support, their bonds rating fall making it ever more expensive to borrow, thus ensuring a negative feedback operates.

Where the states have gotten into trouble is their under-funded state employee pension plans not having put enough away to meet actuarial outlays into the future. And in those states, blue and red, most have constitutional provisions that mandate the pensions must be paid thus putting the tax payers of that state on the hook if things really go south for a state’s finances. Illinois, California, and Connecticut are all hoping Congress will give them a bail-out before the chickens come home to roost on this in 2021.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 23, 2020 4:39 am

I should add that if the Republicans were considering such a move, they should not announce it publicly until after the November elections.

If they were to use it as a campaign issue, the Democrats would just use the opportunity to claim the Republicans want to throw Grandma off the cliff and take food out of starving children’s mouths. So we should not give them this talking point at this time.

Similarly, Republicans should not press to have Barack Obama testify about his efforts to undermine the U.S. Constitution during the last election, before November, because this would be a HUGE distratction, as the Democrats would focus solely on any racial aspects this would raise and it would become all about race and not about the illegal activities of the Obama administration.

After the November elections would be the best time to focus on Obama’s part in the crimes. Even so, Obama will not face criminal penalties because the U.S. is not a banana republic, but he will have to face the fact that the American people are finally going to know all about what he did and what kind of person he is. That will be punishment enough in this situation.

May 21, 2020 3:33 am

A female geologist? Preposterous!

Reply to  Klem
May 21, 2020 4:26 am


Chris Wright
May 21, 2020 3:51 am

“Nobody’s going to Mars…..”
I assume you’re joking. It’s not a question of whether we will go to Mars, it’s a question of when. It will happen, though it may not be in my lifetime.

It will happen for much the same reason that explorers set off in small wooden boats to find new and amazing lands beyond the oceans.
It will happen because we are human.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 10:22 am

You said, “Now, there’s a good chance we will.” You can thank the feminists and their supporters.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 22, 2020 8:24 am

Artemis (/ˈɑːrtɪmɪs/; Greek: Ἄρτεμις Artemis, Attic Greek: [ár.te.mis]) is the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity.

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. Good choice of names, and having women on the first mission back to the Moon, especially if she sets foot first on the Moon this time, will bring feminist support to the space programs. That’s half the population. I think it would be fitting and give hope to women and little girls around the world that they too are equals and will be so going forward forever. Why not?

If we don’t get behind the return of the West to the Moon and going to Mars, China will, and in the longer term scheme of things, they will rule the Solar System, including Earth. We are in a new space race and this time it really matters. The rest is just details that we will figure it out soon enough, like we do with everything else we thought was impossible. I’m with Tom on this one…we can do this and we better do it for our own survival.

We in the West can’t lose superiority in space, and while the new Space Force decision by President Trump for the Air Force will delay that threat from others like China, we will need the private sector to do the heavy lifting and pay for this. Initially, much of this can be done with space tourism dollars practising getting to the newly sold Space Station Hotel that could be sold to a consortium of rich billionaires like Musk, Bozo, and maybe trading publicly as a commercial stock investment. The commercialization of Space will pay for itself in the long run, and so it should. Launching and servicing commercial satellites is a commercial necessity and a multiple trillion+ $$ enterprise already that life on the good Earth already relies on. I’m in the camp of the Dreamers and Doers, for they have gotten the world to where we are now, warts and all.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Earthling2
May 22, 2020 5:36 pm

While there is an obvious political upside to catering to feminists, I think that it is the wrong reason for returning. When the obvious purpose is to make women feel good about themselves, I’m afraid that science will take a backseat to the politics. Look at all the attention the press gave to the recent “first, all-woman space walk at the ISS.” Does anyone remember the purpose of the spacewalk?

John Tillman
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 22, 2020 1:53 pm

I can see why they didn’t go with Project Luna.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Chris Wright
May 21, 2020 10:41 am

Strangely, no one here has mentioned the radiation levels on the surface of a planet without a magnetic field. It will be challenging enough on the spacecraft, getting there and back. However, there will be no effective shielding while out doing field work, and probably problematic shielding while in their quarters.

Explorers in small boats didn’t come across a place that was absolutely inhospitable and had unprecedented hazards such as high levels of radiation. Although, from what I have read, some of the early explorers were driven to desperation by the sand fleas found on the beaches in the Caribbean that burrowed under their toenails.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 21, 2020 12:40 pm

Strangely, no one here has mentioned the radiation levels on the surface of a planet without a magnetic field. It will be challenging enough on the spacecraft, getting there and back.”

Those challenges can be brought under control. See Buzz Aldrin’s “Cycling Space Stations” that are put in orbits that cycle back and forth between the Earth and Mars, coming close to each planet in turn, but never stopping at either planet. Instead, someone who wants a ride from Earth to Mars catches a shuttle out to the Cycling Station, climbs aboard and off he goes to Mars.

The Cycling Station can be covered in one meter of water ice, which will protect the astronauts from space radiation, and the Cycling Staion could be outfitted to produced artificial gavity inside the Cycling Station that would be equivalent to the gravity on the surface of the Earth.

This would be accomplished by either using a second Cycling Station, or something of similar mass, and stringing a mile-long cable between the two, and then causing the Cycling Stations to circle their common center at a speed of one revolution per minute (the same speed that a second hand circles a clockface. You’re sitting on the end of the second hand. That’s how fast you are going around the circle made by the two Cycling Stations). This combination would produce one Earth gravity on the inside of the Cycling Space Stations.

More than one set of Earth/Mars Cycling Space Stations could be used, and the more you use, the more frequently you can catch a ride to Mars or back to Earth. You could arrange to have a Cycling Station coming by Earth every few months if you wanted to put that many in orbit.

So, Aldrin’s Cycling Space Stations, with a little bit of modification, can safely and comfortably transport humans to Mars and return them to Earth.

The claim is that NASA is going to retire the International Space Station around 2025. I’m wondering how they are going to do that since not all the International Space Station belongs to the U.S. now. But if they are so foolish as to do such a thing, then I think NASA should use the Space Station modules for other purposes within the Earth/Moon system, such as orbital transfer vehicles, or as part of an Aldrin Cycling Space Station program.

Take two of those modules and string a mile-long cable between them and use them to explore creatig artificial gravity in space. They can simulate Earth gravity with such a device, and it can simulate the gravity of Mars and the Moon, depending on where you are located along the cable. The closer you get to the center, the less artificial gravity you feel.

Yeah, there’s lots to be done in the Earth/Moon system in the coming decade. A lot of it will be done by private enterprise.

The Bottom Line: Humans are moving into Space. It is our Destiny. We are just now putting our toes in the water.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 1:24 pm

All that needs to happen is SARS-COV-2 get onto the station and contaminate it, either via a human traveller or a resupply fomite. They would have to mothball it (put it in unmanned care-taker status) until a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was ready for returning astronauts/cosmonauts.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 1:35 pm

“Instead, someone who wants a ride from Earth to Mars catches a shuttle out to the Cycling Station, climbs aboard and off he goes to Mars.”
1. you don’t seem to grasp the amount of delta v involved with those transfers.
2. the transit time would be long if those cycle stations were to remain in stable elliptical orbits with a perihelion point at 1 AU and an aphelion point at 1.52 AU.
3. Simply orbiting from 1 AU to 1.52 AU is only a small part of the transfer problem. You also want the planet to be “nearby” at the transfer point. If the target planet is many millions of miles ahead or behind, its useless.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
May 23, 2020 4:44 am

I suggest you read Buzz Aldrin’s website, Joel.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 21, 2020 2:48 pm

The cycling space station is interesting, albeit with some complications as Joel points out. However, what about the radiation levels on the surface of Mars? Besides having no magnetic field, the atmosphere is so thin that it provides little shielding from incoming cosmic rays and the solar wind.

John Tillman
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 22, 2020 12:46 pm

Human inhabitants of Mars would best live underground, with limited forays to the surface.

IMO we shouldn’t be in a hurry to get there, but continuing sending orbiters and landers, to include robotic excavators. Besides digging holes for future habitation, the interior of the planet’s crust needs explored, to see how much ice and liquid water might be there.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 22, 2020 5:41 pm

I agree with you. When TeslaMan is done with his tunneling machine for California’s high-speed rail, we should ship it off to Mars and have the underground facility waiting. It would also offer insights on the marsology [geology] that excursions on the surface couldn’t provide.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 23, 2020 4:54 am

“However, what about the radiation levels on the surface of Mars?”

Clyde, I personally would not be promoting living on Mars. What I would propose is to put a space station around Mars, or more likely land a space station on the moon Phobos, and use that as a base to send people down to Mars on a temporary basis for exploration purposes. The people would have radiation shelters on Mars (underground probably) and they wouldn’t spend a lot of time on Mars.

I think that other than a few adventurers, there will not be a large population of humans on Mars for a long time.

My preference for living off the Earth is to build large habitat modules, miles long and miles in diameter that can ultimately house millions of humans in conditions similar to the surface of the Earth with Earth-equivalent gravity and radiation protection.

I think at some point in time, barring a catastrophe that wipes out the human race, there will be more humans living off the Earth than there will be living on the Earth, and they will be living in artficial habitats. Our destiny in the far future is a Dyson Sphere, if we can’t figure out how to exceed the speed of light. If we can, well, then the whole universe is open to humans. Can you imagine! 🙂

John Tillman
May 21, 2020 4:03 am

How about human-tardigrade hybrids, with chloroplasts in their skin?

Reply to  John Tillman
May 21, 2020 9:26 am

I’m still waiting for my Cherry 2000 model…which was promised in 1987, surely to arrive by 2017.

Mickey Reno
Reply to  Earthling2
May 21, 2020 10:09 am

Ha ha, they’re available in a South Korean football stadium.

John Tillman
Reply to  Earthling2
May 21, 2020 10:55 am

Giving new meanings to AI!

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
May 21, 2020 10:55 am

Or changing the meaning of one old one.

Reply to  Earthling2
May 22, 2020 7:31 am

Haven’t seen that one — maybe not PC (too sexist) to show that on non-premium channels.

Steve S.
May 21, 2020 6:09 am

Just another politically correct virtue signalling article. It’s all the rage.
With the growth of robotics technology and AI, sending a human is just plain stupid. Moreover, anybody who reads the Columbia Disaster report (one of the most shocking documents I have ever read) can plainly see that NASA cannot be trusted with human life.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Steve S.
May 21, 2020 7:31 am

NASA “lost the recipe” when they expanded their focus from their two areas of expertise, pure engineering R&D and large scientific program management (e.g. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs), to try to become the production managers and hands-on operators of space exploration systems (e.g., the Shuttle and related Space Transportation System, and ISS).

It was an unfortunate turn of events and began the decline of NASA that persists even today. Sic transit gloria.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
May 21, 2020 10:25 am

NASA also managed to get their nose under the USGS Landsat tent.

John Tillman
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
May 21, 2020 10:57 am

Like any bureaucracy, NASA had to find something to do after the US quit sending Americans to the Moon.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
May 21, 2020 1:09 pm

Dan Goldin began the decline of NASA. Don’t get me started on him.

I was shocked to see Fox News bring Goldin in as a guest a couple of days ago, and was even more shocked when they didn’t ask him a question about space, although they did note he was the former NASA head.

Its good they didn’t ask him anything about space. His opinions are what got us to where we are today. We could have already had people on the Moon and probably circling Mars right now, had the space program been run properly. Instead, it was all focused on maximizing the use of the Space Shuttle, focused on a decades long project of building the International Space Station.

Instead, NASA could have put a space station in orbit with just a couple of Space Shuttle launches (Option C) and it would have only taken a few months to get everything in orbit. And Option C was cheaper and bigger and simpler than the other space station options to boot.

The Option C space station was about $15 billion in cost. We could have built a second one for another $15 billion and put it in orbit around the Moon. We could have built a third version for another $15 billion and landed it on the Moon for our Moonbase. And we could have built a fourth version for $15 billion and put it in orbit around Mars.

So $60 billion in hardware for a robust Earth/Moon/Mars development program. That compares to about $130 billion that Goldin spent on the International Space Station.

One measley International Space Station versus an entire robust space program for about half that cost. That’s Dan Goldin. He’s a dedicated bureaucrat who was only interested in flying the Space Shuttle as much as possible and in order to do that he chose a space station plan that took decades to complete and required over 100 Space Shuttle launches.

Dan achieved his goal of maximizing the Space Shuttle use and screwed our space program royally in the process.

Now NASA is spending billions more dollars to build a new Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle, when they already had a perfectly fine Heay-Lift Launch Vehicle in the Space Shuttle Launch System. They just threw the Space Shuttle Launch System away for no good reason. It would have served perfectly fine as our current heavy-lift vehicle.

There hasn’t been any Vision at NASA in a long time. NASA now has new leadership. We’ll see how that goes.

I guess the mention of ole Dan *did* get me going a little, didn’t it. 🙂

Gordon A. Dressler
May 21, 2020 6:19 am

What leads NASA to predict that Jessica Watkins has a life expectancy well over 100 years?

Clue Gallagher
May 21, 2020 10:16 am

What is a planetary geologist? I am going to guess that this discipline is something like an astro biologist.

May 21, 2020 11:23 am

It would be silly to send a geologist to Mars. Geologists study the earth. Geo=earth. Maybe a marsologist will be the first to Mars.

Ian Coleman
May 21, 2020 12:06 pm

Hello, Chris Wright. There is no comparison to be made between the voyages of discovery to the New World and trips to Mars. When Columbus first set out across the Atlantic he could be reasonably confident that he would eventually find land. He also knew that when he got there there would be air, food, water, and people to murder and rob. There is nothing on Mars of value to human beings, just as there was nothing on the Moon. Not even a capacity to support human life. There is no profit to be had there, and there is huge expense and danger to get there. Going to Mars is just a much more difficult version of the Moon missions with exactly the same pay-off, which is nothing of material value.

What would it cost to put a small permanent settlement on the Moon? Many, many times more that the International Space Station, which is what? An extremely expensive science project? Maybe you can name one scientific advance that has come from research on the I.S.S. Something on the order of a Shockley or Jobs-Wozniak. But I don’t think you can.

Reply to  Ian Coleman
May 21, 2020 1:45 pm

The problem of Mars is exemplified by the Apollo 13 near disaster. Fortunately for those Lunar-bound astronauts, Earth was “only” a 3 1/2 day trip back with slingshot loop around the Moon. Short enough time-wise to conserve power and (and freeze) air to make it back when something goes wrong. Even if one or all had been injured, 3 days to limp home made NASA a hero for saving them.

Now do that contingency scenario with a multi hundred day trip to Mars. If something happens on the outbound leg to Mars, they still have to loop around Mars to get home.
Game over likely. Vehicle robotic controls and remote control commands from Earth will bring the freeze-dried corpses back to LEO for retrieval.

May 21, 2020 5:47 pm

She’s going to be at least in her 60s if she gets to Mars.

John Tillman
Reply to  David Middleton
May 21, 2020 8:15 pm

Sorry, but IMO, not gonna happen during that close approach. Way too many problems.

But if a brave few are willing to try, God speed them!

Tom Abbott
Reply to  David Middleton
May 23, 2020 5:43 am

“They still don’t have a launch vehicle for Artemis,”

Yeah, isn’t that pitiful Overbudget and Overdue.

NASA had a perfectly fine heavy-lift launch vehicle already in place in the Space Shuttle Launch system. It was a tested, reliable system that could have done the job this new heavy-lift vehicle is supposed to do.

So now we are again behind schedule and struggling to get the new heavy-lift vehicle going, and hoping it will work once we get it all put together. A new rocket is a complicated piece of hardware. It is an advantage to have that complicatd piece of hardware already tested and certified, which we would have had if we had retained the Shuttle Launch System. But our leaders threw that all away, like it was worthless. Now, we have to “roll the dice” on a new heavy-lift launch vehicle.

Obviously, NASA hasn’t been focused on actual space development for many years. Their focus is on new programs and a bigger budget, as all dedicated bureaucrats do. Economizing and using what you already have to move forward in space development is not in their thought process.

The good news is private enterprise is now competing with NASA, and will eventually take the lead in human space development.. Human Space Development needs to be taken out of the hands of the government bureaucrats. And it will be, maybe quicker than anyone thinks.

Ethically Civil
May 22, 2020 1:31 pm

Wouldn’t that be an areologist?

Interested Observer
Reply to  David Middleton
May 22, 2020 9:55 pm

I think EC was alluding to the idea that Ares is the Greek equivalent of the Roman Mars. As such, the study of Martian geology could be called areology. Unfortunately, this name sounds like someone who studies areolas (of which I , ahem, have some experience).

I still haven’t heard a single good argument for spending many trillions of dollars to send people to Mars to study rocks (and plant flags, of course). If the end is simply to increase our knowledge then, I believe it’s better to do it with robots. They have already increased our knowledge of our solar system immensely and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future at a fraction of the cost of human spaceflight.

If the goal is colonization, the reality is that we are centuries away from that goal. Mars has a third of the gravity of Earth and the Moon is one sixth of a G. No one is going to be able to live on these bodies for an extended period. The best we can do is build space stations with revolving sections where 1 G can be approximated and place them in orbit around the various bodies we wish to visit for short periods.

We haven’t even managed to build such a station in Earth orbit yet so, discussions about sending them to the Moon or Mars seem grossly premature.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Interested Observer
May 23, 2020 5:47 am

“I still haven’t heard a single good argument for spending many trillions of dollars to send people to Mars to study rocks (and plant flags, of course).”

Billions, not Trillions. Let’s not get carried away with our denunciations.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 23, 2020 9:01 am

The figure I read some time ago was that it would cost $15 Trillion for a program of multiple missions (5 – 6) to Mars and back. I can’t speak to how accurate that figure was but, it seems like a lot just to study some rocks (and plant some flags, of course). It would seem like a lot to me if it was even $1 Trillion. How many robotic missions could be accomplished with the same amount: dozens or even hundreds, possibly?

For comparison, I had a discussion with a friend recently about whether it was better to have 1 $10,000 bottle of whiskey or 100 $100 bottles of whiskey. Initially, my friend was in favour of the one bottle. However, when I showed him a list of the whiskeys which could be bought for ~$100, he changed his mind. He understood that he would gain far more from the 100 bottles than he would from the one, no matter how good that one was. 100 bottles will last longer and each one could be different, thus expanding his knowledge of whiskey far more than drinking just one bottle ever could.

The same principle applies to spaceflight. We can have a small number of very expensive human spaceflights or a number of robotic missions several orders of magnitude greater for the same price. I simply don’t believe we’re going to learn more from a handful of human spaceflights than we would from hundreds of robotic missions. That may have been the case fifty years ago but, it isn’t true now.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ethically Civil
May 22, 2020 1:49 pm

Should be aresologist.

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