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Great New Space Mining Book! June 3, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy, Space Ventures.
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New Space Mining Book

New Space Mining Book

Now I wish I would have paid more attention in chemistry & geology class. This new book by Dr. John Lewis is amazing. Most “popular” non-fiction is written by English majors who research a topic and never do it justice. Asteroid Mining 101 is so refreshing because it is written by someone who knows what he is talking about. Dr. Lewis has long been involved in concepts for tapping the riches of space.  With an academic background in space science and cosmochemistry (I had no idea that field even existed) he is eminently qualified to author a book on asteroid mining.

What I like about this book is that he clearly identifies the candidate asteroids by orbit, makeup and frequency they pass close to earth. This is a real science based book that is thorough and rigorous in the analysis of the subject. It covers the fascinating use of meteorites that have landed in various places and time on earth in categorizing the potential enormous wealth available for any particular type of asteroid since meteors are just chips off of asteroids.

Asteroid Mining 101 is true to its title with generous coverage of the actual mining process, what we can expect for mineral extraction, how it could be done and how it would be delivered for use back on earth. Overall this is a fascinating, if not technical, look at the practical aspects on mining asteroids in Near Earth Orbit (NEA). It is of interest that Dr. Lewis is Chief Scientist at Deep Space Industries, a real life space mining company, so he is not just a dreamer professor with nothing practical to bring to the table. I hope you enjoy a glimpse of a possible future for space that has tremendous implications back here on earth.

Deflector Shield to Maximum! May 21, 2015

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Radiation in Space, Image credit: J.W.Wilson

Radiation in Space, Image credit: J.W.Wilson

Star Trek was way ahead of its time. Someone was always messing with the shields because the crew was at risk. The reality of space is that it is not only a hard vacuum, but it has some very nasty particles (ionizing radiation) zipping around that our bodies do not deal with well. Any crew traveling through such a field of particle is at risk as well. NASA has yet to come to grips with addressing this potential life threatening events that can randomly occur during a journey through space. Low earth orbit (LEO) affords some level of protection due to the effects of the powerful magnetic field that envelopes the earth that deflects particles away, but only up to a certain level. Even the ISS, which is in LEO has a “safe room” for when the sun sends a bust of space weather heading toward earth. It is not widely known but the Apollo astronauts barely missed a major solar mass coronal ejection (MCE) in the months between the Apollo 16 & 17 missions. Had they been in space, or on the moon at that time there could have been very serious consequences to the crew and spacecraft hardware by a shower of high energy particles and little or no shielding to protect them. Traveling to Mars or chasing an asteroid means a crew will be out of the influence of earths field and its protection. This exposes them to a MCEs, as well as very high energy galactic cosmic rays (see chart) with little shielding available that is light enough to transport into space.

Fortunately others have worked on a solution to shielding the astronauts on such a journey as well as a method to create artificial gravity so our crew will not be rubber legged after floating around for nine (yes that’s nine) months on the way to Mars. The protection scheme is two fold. For radiation protection a group of physicists and engineers have come up with a novel solution, based partly on work done in high energy physics for the attempt to create a fusion reactor. The fusion people are using high intensity magnetic fields to steer & plasma (sun surface temperatures) away from the walls of the reactor so they wont melt. This same technology of superconducting magnets to create a powerful field is suggested for crew protection in deep space. That is because, while you can’t shield against these high energy particles with anything light enough, you can redirect them around the spacecraft & crew with a strong field. This is eloquently described in a paper with more math than my little head can handle, but the net result is it will work and within a reasonable power budget.

They also show is a concept of spinning the spacecraft to generate a artificial gravity for the crew. As a package this makes more sense that anything I have seen out of NASA for crew protection and well being. If I were going to Mars I would put my trust in this concept.

Shielded Spacecraft - Image Credit: R.A. Bamford et al

Shielded Spacecraft – Image Credit: R.A. Bamford et al

Yeah, It’s Rocket Science May 19, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General.
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ALICE Team Photo Credit: Purdue University

ALICE Team Photo Credit: Purdue University

If you add aluminum powder (cheap) and water (free) what do you get? Rocket fuel! That is what the team at Purdue University has been working on in a propulsion program called ALICE (Al – aluminum ICE – frozen water). It seams amazing until you think about the chemistry that is going on. The aluminum is being oxidized by the oxygen present in water which also liberates hydrogen, forming a very combustible low toxicity mixture. While this sounds too good to be true there are several reasons that may prevent you from stirring up a batch in your kitchen. The aluminum is in the form of nano-particles. These tiny pieces of the metal allow much more surface area for the oxidation to occur but are also very difficult to blend with water. What the researchers came up with is a recipe that involves small amounts of other chemicals (a water gelling agent) and HCL to control the PH and very careful blending in an inert gas environment. It is rocket fuel and it is possible to start spontaneous combustion with the oxygen in the air. After the blending and mixing the compound is frozen with a removable core, just like other solid rocket fuels.

To check the performance of the fuel the team ran a series of firings to characterize various batches. The best of the tests was and impulse of 251 N-s, not bad for water and aluminum. The formula was loaded into a test flight vehicle which is shown in the photo above being proudly held by the Purdue team, and test flown as a proof of concept. There is a good youtube video of the whole process including the rocket launch. Very impressive results.

Now why is this a big deal? In our solar system including our moon there is evidence of water and combined within the lunar regolith and in the make up of asteroids there is water and aluminum. This technology is meaningful in the broad context of using our solar system mineral and water assets to both expand and enrich our world. With an abundant source of fuel we can begin the process of using what is there and not have to haul huge amounts of fuel with us. It makes good sense and yeah, it’s rocket science.

Sleeping Away the Future May 15, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy, The Solar System.
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Essay by Mark Flavin

Moon Image credit: NASA

Moon  –   Image credit: NASA

“I blame you for the moonlit sky
and the dream that died with the eagles’ flight.
I blame you for the moonlit nights when
I wonder why are the seas still dry?
Don’t blame this sleeping satellite.”

“Sleeping Satellite” written by John Robert Beck, Tasmin Archer and John Hughes.


When I originally heard this song which was sung so well by Tasmin Archer way back in ’92 I thought the lyrics were novel. Most pop songs sing about good, bad or ugly relationships yet here was a song with a clear, non-romantic message I could identify with. Now some forty-six years after the Eagle landed at Tranquility Base – that’s right forty-six years – I struggle with a culture that was so successful and amazing at landing and returning humans from the moon and then just walk away from something so profound. Are we that shallow? Are we so self-absorbed with making money, having “fun”, fighting wars – no sane person would ever fight – that something as big as departing the earth for another stellar object becomes trivial?

The state of American culture in the past almost fifty years since; “That’s one small step…” was uttered on the dry Sea of Tranquility is that it is still dry; we never went back. 21st century American has no purpose that transcends the daily grind of endless political argument and the death spiral of “can’t do” that seems to emanate from every crack. Wackos with an agenda for constraint and regression flourish while free thinking genius is punished with a wall of regulation and repression. We thrill at the pseudo-progress that allows us to “tweet” and “toot” on gadget phones that do nothing well, not even telephoning. So we sit in homes, at work, in a cafe, or (God forbid) in our moving cars, heads down punching our thumbs on an “i-something” device ignoring the real world, the universe and the people who inhabit it. The e-messiah of Cupertino has given us portable electronic pacifiers in their many forms so anyone anywhere can waste time burrowing deeper into self-absorption. Welcome to the quasi-modern era where advancement is measured in how our egos are titillated, not in measurable real progress.

What should a modern post-Apollo, post moon landing space era look like? After all it is not the sleeping satellites (our moons) fault; we are responsible for our destiny. There are several vital areas that have languished for decades waiting for leadership that does not seem to exist in the 21st century here and now in our country, or anywhere else on earth for that matter and they are as follows:

  • Innovative propulsion technology.
  • Making space craft livable and safe.
  • Space craft for beyond the low earth orbit (LEO) & the moon.
  • Enabling human exploration of our solar system.
  • Utilizing the near limitless riches of the asteroids.

Propulsion Technology – Since the 1950’s there has been zero progress on any propulsion technology beyond conventional liquid or solid rocket engines. Why is this so? Big aerospace has a vested interest in keeping their research and development to as little as possible while harvesting profit from technology developed for the early and now ancient missile programs. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) which should be called the United Leach Alliance is a monopoly consisting of Boeing Company and the Lockheed Martin Corporation has become the money sucker firmly attached like a parasite to government funded space launches. Based on the Atlas (December 1957 first launch) and the Titan (December 1958 first launch) rockets they have “evolved” the cryogenic chemical rocket for almost sixty years. Imagine your car with an engine and chassis from 1957. Would you be reaching for the stars, or driving on two lane highways desperately looking for the next gas station?

The efforts of Space X and others are significant however, they only provide what the government wants; more chemical cryogenic rockets to deliver payloads to LEO or geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO). They have impacted the price to orbit but not significant enough to make it affordable to anyone but a government or a large corporation.

It is not that there are no alternatives, it’s just that the government, and large corporations are risk averse. Ideas bounce around academia like the ALICE program flown in a scale rocket at Purdue University that would create rocket fuel from nano-particles of aluminum (very cheap) and water (free) but these inventive and imaginative propulsion technologies languish because they are not conventional cryogenic liquid rockets.

Propulsion Technology Goal: Develop a propulsion technology that would reduce the current launch cost per pound of ~ $4K-$13K per pound for LEO to around one tenth of the average or <$100 per pound.

Impossible, the critics scream, but not so fast. It is all about smashing the paradigm that space flight needs to be expensive. Real engineers aren’t intimidated by a challenge, just read about the work done on the Apollo program. The challenge was to the moon and back in 10 years, they did it in 8. (Move away from that i-phone and put your thumbs down and your mind in gear.)

Serious consideration of making space livable and safe. – It is frustrating watching NASA pursue the same old path; micro gravity in LEO or zero g coasting on a long duration space mission. This “head in the sand” intransigence is completely irresponsible especially considering the current mission plan has a travel time of ~ 8 months to Mars. Really, 8 months floating in space, then 3 g descent onto the surface with 0.4g earth gravity. The rubber legged astronauts will not be in very good physiological shape for doing much exploring for a while once they get there.

Then there is the issue of radiation and its debilitating effects to the crew. No real plans to do anything serious to mitigate something as lethal as ionizing radiation after leaving the earths protective magnetic field other that a half-hearted study with mice – which was a real eye opener. Imagine getting to Mars and having seriously degraded your mental acuity right when you need clear thinking the most.

Space Habitat for Humans – A safe habitat that provides astronauts, visitors and travelers with a reasonable portion of earths gravity & equivalent radiation protection of LEO.

Just saying artificial gravity can send a NASA space bureaucrat into orbit. “too expensive”, “too difficult” , “too complex”, and so was going to the moon in 1961. As far as radiation protection, what person, other than a criminal, would send a volunteer crew on a mission they know would severely impact the crews health and reduce their mortality and quality of life upon return. We desperately need the technology developed that will put a space structure at one of the Lagrange points or elsewhere to confirm our ability to live in space for long periods or permanently without debilitating consequences. It is interesting to note the Mark Benson et al have a concept that addresses both of these concerns in a very comprehensive paper published through the AIAA (ref. document AIAA 2011-7138).

Space travel beyond the low earth orbit (LEO) & the moon. – We have been “Space Shuttled” or should it be “Space Scuttled” which limited our access to deep space from 1980 until the “space truck” was retired in 2011. All that wasted time ferrying back & forth to LEO. The enormous waste of a program that never should have been our sole access to space. Oh sure we have the ISS, (Ineffective Space Station) or I$$. Between those two programs the NASA budget was squandered for thirty years, billions of dollars that left us with no heavy lift capability once we abandoned the Saturn rocket. (It is an interesting footnote that there are two un-flown fully space qualified Saturn V launchers sitting as gate mascots at NASA facilities. We can’t even find the plans they were built with!) Now, finally NASA is working on a heavy lifter, the Space Launch System (SLS) that the congress forced a reticent NASA (kicking and fussing) to build. As a culture we can do much better that this.

Solar System Spacecraft for Humans – Develop a multi-mission manned space craft capable of operating for extended periods beyond the earth – moon system.

Not a glorified “Orion” capsule with kluged appendages and no artificial gravity. A real multi-mission system was eloquently described by Mark Holoman and Edward Henderson of NASA in the form of the Nautilus – X concept. This program concept brought together exquisitely clear thinking (for NASA) and defines a craft which could be used for solar system exploration. This type of craft would be greatly enhanced by advancements of in space propulsion technology like the functional Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) which would allow a major reduction in transit time within the solar system. We will have heavy lifter with the SLS, now let’s do something with it.

A plan for human exploration of our solar system. – It’s out there, let’s go explore it, and I don’t mean with little robot “explorers”. The space program was hijacked by activist “scientists” with an agenda of proving life on earth was not unique by finding microbial life somewhere that is not earth. Who really cares? Finding microbes has never driven a culture to explore any new vista anywhere, yet for years we have heard the tribal chant of “find the water, find life”. This absurd unscientific premise has caused us to waste tens of billions on landers and orbiters desperately trying to find microbial life on Mars. There is no scientific data to support the premise that where there is non-teresterial water there is life. It is just like saying: “My fridge has beer therefore any fridge I find will have beer in it.” It is called a logical fallacy, but we trudge on decade after decade, spending wildly, hoping, praying that we will find microbial life somewhere, anywhere. It is much more sensible to send humans to explore and if they find life, great, but at least we will have the satisfaction of seeing humans kicking up a little red dust on Mars in the process. Human exploration is something it doesn’t take a microscope to see, and it inspires those of us who don’t get to space travel to not only dream a little but put tax dollars on something with which we can identify. Robots are fine for where we can’t go because of the environment, like Venus, but if it is a hard surface planet we can stand on or moon or asteroid send people, we can relate to that, support that, pay for that.

A National Mandate for Human Exploration of our Solar System. Just as Martin Luther started the Reformation by publishing his “95 Thesis” so there is a need to attack the orthodoxy of the space bureaucracy with a fresh viewpoint that upsets the status quo.

Year after year those who yearn for a plan of human exploration of space are frustrated with an unresponsive sluggish post Apollo agency who has lost their way with no leadership or concise action plan that spans the decades ahead. Their charter had become focused on self-absorbed programs of earth research, atmospheric research, physics research, technology research, systems research (do you see a trend) with no tangible goal. It has become one mega science project for people who have never worked a day outside of academia and who build their little silos in research of things, which to a large part, have nothing to do with aeronautics or space (the “AS” in NASA). Churning out reports, crunching numbers on super-computers, holding symposiums and trying to get kids interested in science. Why? So they can grow up and waste there lives doing meaningless research? It is enough! It is time to eliminate the bureaucrats, administrators and activist scientists, clean out the Luddites and make a sensible plan for humans to explore the solar system; all of it, not just low earth orbit.

Clearly defined plans for utilizing the near limitless riches of the asteroids. – It is unimaginable what wealth is present in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter and even closer in the host of near earth objects (NEO) that skirt our planets orbit. Nickel, cobalt and more valuable metals such as gold, platinum and rhodium enough to provide resources for a thriving earth for millennia. This is not something that is unobtainable but it is within current technology to explore and recover. Dr. John S. Lewis makes the case for why this is both feasible and necessary in the two books he has written on the subject. It is time we though about our future before our national competitors do.

The National Mandate of Mineral Recovery from NEO. – This is not science fiction, it is fact and it is the kind of thing that can make or break a nation’s future.

While the private sector has the desire to use the NEO resource to make money it is the charter of the national government to clear the way for this kind of enterprise. Just as the government facilitated the expansion of the railroads in the 19th century with generous grants of land so it is in the best interest of America to have a solid plan to help pave the way to extract minerals from space in the 21st century. Without such a plan we will be a spectator while other nations or federations move to capitalize on the new space wealth. There are few times in the history of a nation when it stands at a clearly defined cross roads. The American Civil War, The Industrial Revolution, World War II, The Space Race. In each instance to fail would have meant a future none of us would enjoy.

What is ahead for us individually and for our nation is clear. We have a reasonable expectation to succeed in whatever path our collective will chooses. History has shown us to be a nation of resourceful free thinkers. Self-doubt and self-absorption diffuse the energy of a powerful and capable country and allow us to settle for second place when the blue ribbon is there for the taking. Space is not just an imaginary place where science fiction happens it is a real resource for us to explore and thrill to its wonders and prosper in its riches. If we have the heart to wake up and chart a course we will flourish by purposeful actions or we can choose inaction and by default to sleep away the future.

“And when we shoot for the stars
What a giant step;
Have we got what it takes
To carry the weight of this concept
Or pass it by?
Like a shot in the dark
Miss the mark with a sense of adventure.”

Lyrics to “Sleeping Satellite” written by John Robert Beck, Tasmin Archer and John Hughes.

essay copyright by Mark Flavin 2015

I’m Back + Planetary Resources May 8, 2015

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Ventures, Technology.
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ARKYD Spacecraft

ARKYD 3 Spacecraft Photo Credit: Planetary Resources


I took a long hiatus from my blog but I am back. Being distracted by running a business has kept me from what I love, space, but no longer! I will again begin to add content to share with other space enthusiasts.

Speaking of space Planetary Resources is very close to releasing there first prospecting telescope called Arkyd 3 from the ISS in July of this year. The instrument was lofted into orbit aboard the most resent SpaceX Dragon launch to the ISS. The mission of the Arkyd 3 is a technology demonstrator to proof the spacecraft and systems necessary to orbit other craft with the ultimate mission of identifying near earth objects (NEO) suitable for capture and mining.

Planetary Resources has a very ambitious goal of ultimately mining asteroids. They are taking a very measured approach to this by first identifying a list of candidate asteroids within reasonable range of earth. Once the database of objects is complete they will go to the next phase of mission planning along with their partners to begin actual mining. Their partners are heavyweights like Larry Page (Google), Eric Schmidt. (Google), Sir Richard Branson (Virgin everything), Ross Perot Jr. and a bunch of others that have the resources to move the venture from proof of concept to reality.

Keep you eye on this company. They have the potential to not just talk space but do space in a big way. It is what we have needed for a long, long time; entrepreneurs with vision that can literally reach for the stars.

Is a Mars mission “ludicrous” ? June 18, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy.
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I recently read an interview by Chris Kraft, the engineer who established Mission Control for the Apollo program. He stated that sending humans to Mars was ludicrous which Mirriam-Webster defines as:  “amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration, or eccentricity.” Mr. Kraft may know a lot about running a mission control organization during “the good old days”  but he appears clueless & out of touch about a real goal for a national space program.

What is so absurd about sending our astronauts to a hard surface planet in our solar system? What is laughable about real vision for a change instead of the hocus pocus NASA is doing as it disassembles human space flight program? This is all being done at the direction of a President & his political hacks who are sucking NASA’a budget dry to fund socialism. With an empty headed director like Bolden at the helm of NASA, a guy who thinks one of the principal goals of NASA is to “make Islamic nations feel good about their contribution to math & science.” (see interview) how will NASA ever do anything worthwhile? Now that kind of incongruous leadership & direction is ludicrous if I ever heard it! What could that possibly have to do with a space exploration?

With the kind of nonsense from non-leaders like Bolden, along with the out of touch old guard of the Apollo era we deserve to watch other nations visit Mars while we sit wasting time & our money on the ISS stuck forever in low earth orbit while buying each other lunch with food stamps. Ludicrous indeed, I think Mr. Kraft & all of us need to look around at the status quo and determine where absurd behavior is being manifested.  It certainly is not is in aiming at the inspiring, achievable goal of putting humans on Mars.

New Thunder: The Saga of the Seven Worlds May 7, 2012

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New Thunder

New Thunder

I am pleased to announce that I have just published an exciting new e-book called New Thunder. This science fiction story is set in the distant future among the descendents of Earth who have been scattered across seven remote planets light years from the home world. The main character, Avalon Parder is a cocky military star-pilot, humbled to a desk job of lowly military attache by his outrageous behavior.

Unknown to Captain Parder a profound action adventure awaits him which unfolds as a enigmatic mystery spread across the seven alien worlds founded by Earth. It is a classic struggle of stubborn will of one man versus the ruthless control of a federated government just on the verge of perfecting a total mind control super weapon. Parder is a resourceful & clever fighter, but so are his adversaries. His one advantage is a gift from the distant masters of Earth who have left humanity an incredibly capable space craft, the Omega Equinox, with her one man crew sworn to assist Avalon in his quest no matter the outcome.

I hope you will enjoy this unique action story which can found as an e-book at amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0080ID5ZQ

Why do robots have all the fun? May 2, 2012

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Image Credit: NASA
View of Mars taken by Opportunity.

The robot explorer Opportunity passes a milestone of its ninth year on Mars this month. What a testimony to a first rate engineering team and what can be done if we want to do something difficult. Is it just me or am I the only one who gets irritated that little “rovers” are exploring Mars. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to know what is on the surface of Mars but when I see incredible vistas and fascinating objects littering the landscape of Mars I get a little jealous.  I want to be the one drilling a rock, climbing the rim of a crater or motoring along the red sands. Well maybe not me, but a human, not a machine. The old videos of the Apollo guys doing, well, human stuff on the Moon, like wringing out the moon buggy or drilling core samples or whatever. Now I can identify with a person doing things that you or I would do, but a little R2 unit clicking and chirping along; that is less that thrilling.

The next “explorer” NASA has in route to Mars is named Curiosity and is set to touch down in August of this year. It is a SUV sized rover that will do what else; sniff out water and microbial life. I think it is time to find out for ourselves if Mars can support life. We should be sending SUV sized remote construction vehicles preparing the infrastructure for a human habitat. Now that is a goal that people could get excited about. We’ll bring our own SUV’s and do some roving for ourselves. Feature an astronaut cruising across a brilliant red dessert landscape with their arm out the window of their space rated Hummer making some dusty tracks to the next ridge to see what is over it when “crunch”. “Oops, sorry little fellow didn’t see you there digging for Mars cooties.”  Microbes, that’s what you use to make beer, not blowing a billion or two in order to find them on Mars for what possible reason?  Humans need to have a little fun too since we foot the bill.

Next time you see a photo of the Mars surface envision yourself at the wheel of your own rover laying down a red dust trail with a huge grin on your face. Now that’s exploring!

Asteroid mining 101 April 30, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Ventures, The Solar System.
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The Book: Mining the Sky
by John S. Lewis

The recent announcement by Planetary Resources about forming a venture to mine asteroids is no new concept. In 1996 John Lewis published the book Mining the Sky.

Dr. Lewis is a professor of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. In his book he details how humanity might one day tap the huge resources in our solar system. Each chapter is introduced by a vignette of a some future scenario where we are already actively engaged in space mining and colonization.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to know where Planetary Resources is headed since Professor Lewis is a key technical advisory. Based on the depth of his understanding of the physics & logistics of space mining as well as the potential of our solar system it seems they are in good hands.

Mining the Sky is a fascinating look at a possible future for any culture with the will to go into space with a real mission beyond finding extraterrestrial microbes.

Is finding microbes really exploring space? April 23, 2012

Posted by Mark Flavin in General, Space Policy.
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I saw an article on Space Daily that shows the absurdity of letting “scientists” set the agenda for exploring space. The article Bringing Mars Back to Earth which discusses how an international group of space snobs (including NASA technocrats)  thinks we should waste time returning to Earth rock samples from Mars hoping for signs of ancient microscopic life. This is moronic and engenders absolutely no interest among tax paying citizens asked to fund such a folly. This group says it will take three mission to Mars to return samples. What a colossal waste of time and resources. Why are such credentialed  mis-guided people allowed to set the ageda for space exploration? Because our leadership is clueless and has no vision or agenda what so ever.

We need to rebel against such nonsense and demand from NASA (No Advancement Since Apollo) and government an agenda for HUMAN exploration of near space. Why not a create a project; ditch NASA and it bureaucracy and take the money to establish a permanent human occupied outpost on Mars!  Such and initiative would inspire people and lead to a human presence outside of Earth which is legitimate human exploration, not twiddling test tubes looking for microscopic “evidence”.

I urge you to email the  Committee on Science & Technology, which is the US government agency responsible for NASA & let then know the we want to see red Martian dust on an American astronauts boots, not Mars rocks. We have enough rocks in the heads of NASA administrators & “scientists” to examine for decades.