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This could happen as soon as 2022

NASA wants to analyze some terrain samples from Mars in an effort to answer whether life exists there, but the problem has been transporting such samples from the Red Planet back to Earth. 

But now, it looks as though NASA has found a potential solution: customize a SpaceX Dragon capsule

While this is just a proposal for now and is by no means a planned mission with set funding yet, NASA said that modifying a SpaceX Dragon capsule into a landing craft could be a cost-effective way of bringing Martian samples back to Earth as soon as 2022. 

An internal study at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California revealed that the modified Dragon capsule -- dubbed "Red Dragon" -- would make a direct entry into the atmosphere of Mars and descend to the surface using retro propulsion for a precision touchdown (thanks to SuperDraco rocket engines) instead of a parachute system. 

The study suggests a Red Dragon could land roughly 2 metric tons of useful payload on Mars. A Red Dragon has "several times" the volume of the Viking heritage entry vehicle from the 1970s, and would be equipped to carry a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV), and hardware to transfer samples collected.


[SOURCE: NASA]

From there, the Red Dragon return vehicle would exit the Martian surface, thanks to some help from the MAV, and make its way toward Earth. 

A big plus for Red Dragon is that the mission would not require the transfer of samples from one vehicle to another in Mars orbit.

"The significance of the work is that it opens the door to the efficient achievement of an important planetary science objective at a lower complexity level and, by extension, at potentially lower cost than previously considered," said Andrew Gonzales, leader of the NASA study.

This certainly isn't NASA and SpaceX's first project together. SpaceX -- which is headed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- flew its Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS for the first time back in May 2012 for a test supply run. After that successful trip, SpaceX and NASA signed a $1.6 billion contract that allows SpaceX to complete 12 supply trips to the ISS and back.

In October 2012, the Dragon capsule completed its first official cargo run to the ISS, bringing home 1,673 pounds of cargo. 

Source: Space.com



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So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 3:52:14 PM , Rating: 5
For half a penny more we might be able to fund some real space missions. Half a penny! (to quote Tyson) But instead, we're stuck with this?

*sigh*

Let's all stop kicking tires and fretting over which Congressional members will get a raise, what social programs will get a boost or a cut and do the right thing--double NASA's budget.

If we do... maybe instead of sending a recovery rocket, we could send real humans to Mars.




RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Jeffk464 on 3/10/2014 4:05:21 PM , Rating: 2
Before they give NASA more money they better figure out what there goals are.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 4:06:48 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.


Done. Let's talk money now. ;)


By SPOOFE on 3/10/2014 4:16:47 PM , Rating: 2
"... to boldly go where no probe has gone before."

FTFY


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By amanojaku on 3/10/2014 4:17:13 PM , Rating: 3
In other words, to impregnate alien virgins.

/james t.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 4:36:20 PM , Rating: 2
That would be quite the adventure... determining "compatibility constraints..." Definitely scientific, definitely.


By boeush on 3/14/2014 6:30:24 PM , Rating: 2
That's what you'd say, until you are tossed in the sack with a poison-oozing land octopus...


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/10/2014 4:43:46 PM , Rating: 1
I cannot in good conscience support doubling the budget of a Federal agency. Even one such as NASA.

Everyone complains about the budget and the debt and deficits, until it comes to their Sacred Cow. Then oh, yeah, we need to spend more on THAT.

Well I'm perhaps making a radical departure from my Conservative colleagues when I say, no, NASA and everyone else is going to have to to tighter their belts until we turn this debt crisis around.

I will not support any increased spending, not one damn dime, no matter what the cause or what's at stake. Not for a new bomber, not for healthcare, and not for going to Mars. That's it, the line in the sand needs to be drawn somewhere, and I say it's here.

Because none of that is going to matter when the country collapses in a Euro style debt implosion.


By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 4:54:46 PM , Rating: 2
I normally wouldn't, either, being a fiscal conservative myself--but for some strange reason, these days at least, it seems spending will never be reigned under control. So it is more a matter of arguing who gets what (like children that found a bunch of toys that fell off a truck and are fighting over them) than who does the right thing. Because that is basically what our Government is doing to us--stealing from our future.

I'd rather see that stolen money go towards something meaningful like NASA than something stupid like another study on blue wharbler mating habits with Puget Sound sharp-finned trout. Because, you know, in some strange world a hippie will find a way to believe a bird might mate with a fish. We'll never know until we blow untold millions of dollars on it!

At least NASA inspires minds. A bird mating with a fish? Well, we already have enough of that inspiration in the .xxxesque domains.

I was pretty disgusted by that clown president of ours leading into Cosmos last night. Ah well, another discussion for another day. :) (but had to throw it in there as it is relevant to space)


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By TSS on 3/10/2014 5:35:25 PM , Rating: 1
It's already a mathematical certainty the USA will collapse.

Might as well spend the money you're already going to spend on probably the only thing that still captures the world's imagination.

Not to mention something that could actually boost the economy by opening up a whole new market that doesn't even exist - commercial space travel.

Saying that the line should be drawn here is like being Yosemity Sam saying he won't step over another one of bugs bunny's lines while being halfway to the otherside of the grand canyon already. And that's no analogy either, litteraly the only reason why the economy is still going is because colectively everybody decided we won't fall as long as we don't look down.


By JediJeb on 3/10/2014 6:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Might as well spend the money you're already going to spend on probably the only thing that still captures the world's imagination.


Is that sports or reality shows? Doesn't seem to be science or space these days.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By geddarkstorm on 3/10/2014 9:14:25 PM , Rating: 2
I personally would be interested to hear what you see that gives you that gloom outcome.


By boeush on 3/14/2014 6:28:17 PM , Rating: 2
Here, have a read:

http://www.tullettprebon.com/documents/strategyins...

It's long, but it'll open your eyes...


By sorry dog on 3/11/2014 3:33:54 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't say it's a certainty but there are some F shaped or logrithmic poisson distrubutions that would describe the country's chances for severe social disruptions rather well.


By Guspaz on 3/10/2014 5:04:44 PM , Rating: 3
Stuck with this? This mission would be groundbreaking, the first time anybody would EVER have returned samples from another planet back to earth. It would be huge!


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Murloc on 3/10/2014 6:15:42 PM , Rating: 1
sending humans to mars is useless.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 8:34:02 PM , Rating: 3
It isn't. It would push us to advance our technology--our equipment, our spacecraft; all of this would be improved and modernized for such a journey. That alone would be worth it.

The physical act of setting foot on Mars? That's not such a big deal (well, it'd be the first official planet Man stepped on other than our own but aside from that...).

What it truly would do is inspire minds young and old alike and whet their thirst for more. That's what I'd like to see.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/10/2014 9:03:36 PM , Rating: 2
This isn't like the Moonshot. We have a far higher level of technology today, I don't see how a manned mission to Mars could possible have such a huge benefit.

I'm with him. Mars is useless, there's NOTHING we can't learn via remote probes and rovers anyway. No need to send people.

We just do NOT have the money for this kind of pie in the sky nonsense. If it was so important, why isn't EVERY first world country doing this? Why does America need to be the one?


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 10:02:38 PM , Rating: 2
We might have a far higher level of technology but our space technology is still extremely primitive. What we need is something to push us into creating a true, sustainable spacecraft and massive advances in propulsion technology. The only way to do that is to set the bar high.

I still believe man will kill themselves off. Someone has to figure out how to farm the stars and I'd rather it be us than another country.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Reclaimer77 on 3/10/2014 10:13:21 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
We might have a far higher level of technology but our space technology is still extremely primitive.


Compared to....Star Trek?

Man just learned to fly 105 years ago!! Primitive? I think we're advancing at an incredible pace.

quote:
Someone has to figure out how to farm the stars and I'd rather it be us than another country.


So would I. But what is five or ten years, spent getting our economy and debt fixed, in the grand scheme of things?

Mars isn't going anywhere :P


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/10/2014 11:58:56 PM , Rating: 2
Well, see, that's the thing, there is nothing our Government can do to fix the economy by spending. Not a thing. The other day our stupid President proposed increasing foreign taxes for certain Corporations. He doesn't have a clue.

The only thing that can fix this economy is encouraging corporate spending. Nothing else. The corporations hold all the real money (i.e. money in the bank). They have cash. Their cash won't devalue our dollar if it is pumped into the system as it is already there.

If corporations start spending, everyone wins because they will have money in their pockets they can spend which will get the economy moving again.

Our debt... well that's another issue entirely. We need to get our GDP up to a strong level to make our goods/services worth something and somehow achieve positive cash flow on our tax revenue. We'll also have to cut spending. There are PLENTY of other areas we can cut spending in without having to sacrifice NASA (and we can even increase NASA's budget). Trim the whole organization back down to a pre-Lincoln system... i.e. Courts, Congress, President and Military (with NASA on the side and a couple other raw essentials).

Good luck seeing that happen. :( John Wilkes Booth was four years too late.

quote:
Compared to....Star Trek?


Compared with anything remotely serviceable beyond low-Earth orbit that can allow take-off, re-entry and take-off again without refueling. Such a thing doesn't exist yet... But it could.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By pandemonium on 3/11/2014 6:29:43 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
Well, see, that's the thing, there is nothing our Government can do to fix the economy by spending. Not a thing. The other day our stupid President proposed increasing foreign taxes for certain Corporations. He doesn't have a clue.


You mean the one where it'll make it more difficult for those corporations - that you mention in the next paragraph - to spend in other countries and escape a lot of the U.S.'s taxation otherwise? How do you think all of those corporations are sitting on all of that money in the first place? Yeah, that's stupid. Fix what's broken in our economy. Incredibly dumb. What are they thinking? The only problem with this proposal is financial service companies are exempt from this increased taxation and that'll be a giant loophole; like everything else.

Also, I'd love to hear your dissemination of why our government can't fix the economy by spending. People like to say that it won't, but they can never answer why not. They're just against spending, so that means also removing anything that can be positive in result of building more revenue. That's a sluggish economy retainer. As we've seen in the past, time and time again, you have to spend money to make money.

quote:
If corporations start spending, everyone wins because they will have money in their pockets they can spend which will get the economy moving again.


There's nothing stopping corporations from spending now . What makes you think this'll magically change from being forced by the government? If anything, mandated spending for corporations to communal expenses will only make things worse.

Our GDP is low because we outsource everything, because, surprise, surprise, it's cheaper to. So the rich get richer...


By MrBlastman on 3/11/2014 11:32:02 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Also, I'd love to hear your dissemination of why our government can't fix the economy by spending.


You have to delve deep into economic theory, man. The gist of it all is spending with a net-negative cash flow prints money on debt which over time (not at the moment) threatens to grossly devalue our currency to a point where it is no longer useful abroad. In a global economy, the strength of our currency is important.

The problem with our economy isn't the lack of money out there, it is the resistance to flow of that money. It doesn't want to change hands. Much like a human being, to live your blood must flow. If it doesn't flow, it clots.

The money needs to start flowing. Throwing more money at a situation like this (off of debt) just adds more clotting and does little to help the flow.

quote:
If anything, mandated spending for corporations to communal expenses will only make things worse.


I don't suggest we mandate spending at all. What I do think would help is to incentivize spending. Put a spark in the motor and help it turn over. Don't force it to turn over, just help it do so on its own free volition.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Just Tom on 3/11/2014 3:37:27 PM , Rating: 2
The problem is in order to spend money government needs to take it from someone else. This can be done either through direct taxes or inflating the money supply. Sometimes government spends money in productive ways - maintaining order, building highways, protecting trade routes - and there is indeed a net economic effect. However, I believe, and you are free to disagree, that for the most part we are way beyond effective and productive government spending. The money taken by the government would be more effectively spent by individuals rather than the government.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By pandemonium on 3/12/2014 5:41:29 AM , Rating: 2
What you're suggesting is a revolution and I don't think anyone would agree to the anarchy that would follow that transition. Actually, if that were to happen I'd be moving out of this country pretty quickly.

We have to take steps in the right direction somewhere, or else we're just backpedaling - even if those steps seem insignificant.


By Just Tom on 3/12/2014 3:19:45 PM , Rating: 2
Anarchy? Revolution? It is the government spending less money. Do you really think if, just to pick a number, the government cut 10% across the board there would be anarchy and revolution? If so how come there was no such anarchy just a few scant years ago when we were spending much less.

The simple fact is government spending is going to be cut. The question is when and by how much. The sooner the cutting starts the smaller the cuts need to be.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Just Tom on 3/11/2014 3:44:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The only thing that can fix this economy is encouraging corporate spending. Nothing else. The corporations hold all the real money (i.e. money in the bank). They have cash. Their cash won't devalue our dollar if it is pumped into the system as it is already there.


No, that is not how it works. If corporations started spending money they are sitting on that will increase the velocity of money which will in turn increase inflation. The decrease in velocity of money is the very reason why the fed's monetary expansion has not created enormous inflation.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/11/2014 4:04:51 PM , Rating: 2
I get what you are saying but I disagree. The chief reason the Fed's monetary expansion has not created enormous inflation yet is because it has primarily been targeted at Banks and Financial Institutions--who have not been passing on the benefits to the general population. They have received stacks of cash but we have seen very little of it.

Corporations, on the other hand, have been hoarding real, unleveraged money. I'd rather see them pour that money back into the system than a shift in Federal policy to dump cash straight into the system (not that the Fed can do this, as technically they can't at this point with rates as low as they are)--Congress and he President, could. It would be suicidal.

I'm not worried so much about inflation--I accept it as a very real possibility and am poised to capitalize tremendously off of it if and when it occurs. What I am worried about is allowing it to occur through leverage which is reckless.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By Just Tom on 3/11/2014 5:06:06 PM , Rating: 2
The money supply is a function of money's velocity and the quantity of money. That 'real, unleveraged money' is sitting in banks just like most of the QE funds. As soon as either pile of money starts getting spent inflation will increase, ceteris paribus. Of course, the Fed thinks they will be able to stay ahead of the inflationary curve by raising interest rates. I am doubtful.


By MrBlastman on 3/11/2014 8:54:11 PM , Rating: 2
They won't be able to at all given the amount of potential inflation out there. I'm preparing for sky-high interest rates. I can't wait to buy 30-year bonds at 10 - 15% again.

If it happens, that is. I think there is a decent case for it.


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By w8gaming on 3/11/2014 3:29:43 AM , Rating: 2
We are advancing at a fast rate, but there is an incredible challenge to settle on another planet. Personally I think the constraint of available usable energy sources is working against us. We are burning non-renewable fuels at alarming rate, and it is conceivable that we won't have enough to eventually leave and live on another planet just because there is no more efficient energy sources left to perform this undertaking. Space is so dangerous, mainly because the technology that we can put up there must work with a very limited energy constraint. Imagine a spacecraft having the energy resources of a whole city, we could probably use it to mine and manufacture other equipments in space. But we have no such spacecraft now.

Also, man has been flying since first man flight with hot air balloon, which was almost 250 years ago. Our spacecraft technology now is like the hot air balloon technology in terms of aviation history.

There is also no reason to believe the economy can be fixed in 10 years. It has been many ten years before it and the economy was never fixed, how could it happen now?


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By MrBlastman on 3/11/2014 11:39:14 AM , Rating: 2
We have plenty of energy left on Earth! We have over 10,000 years of Uranium (estimated) and other fissile materials for nuclear power alone. We also have more hydrogen than we need.

Remember the law of conservation of energy: Energy can not be created nor destroyed.

We might be burning fossil fuels but that doesn't preclude us in no way of transforming sources into other sources of usable energy. Until we start physically taking material off this world, we have what we need. The only thing we are jeopardy of is running out of the initial catalyst in usable form--which at this point, is no longer pure oil. Nuclear power almost ensures our ability to exist thousands of years into the future.

Space might be dangerous but the Atlantic Ocean was dangerous to Columbus, too. That didn't stop him, either. Think of what this world would be like now if he (and others) had refused to take their voyages across.


By ritualm on 4/1/2014 7:41:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
We have plenty of energy left on Earth!

Having read most of that Tullett Prebon report from start to finish, that statement would be more accurate if written thus:
quote:
We have plenty of very expensive energy left on Earth!

The only way we can continue our current energy consumption rates is to offload the Earth's total carrying capacity elsewhere, by establishing human colonies in planets abroad. We have to start putting our eggs in more than one basket - or we all die. There is no other choice.

We have only about 30-60 years of uranium supplies (excluding reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel) and maybe 50-100 years of thorium if this planet goes from oil/gas/coal to nuclear, and by then we better have a successful process for sustained nuclear fusion. Right now the NIF is running a total negative return of energy with its experiments, even though its most recent firing tests generated more energy than consumed.

That requires everyone to embrace nuclear energy, not reject it like how there are protests against resumption and expansion of nuclear power generation because OMG FUKUSHIMA! We'll have war and famine before the total conversion takes place.


By delphinus100 on 3/10/2014 6:31:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
For half a penny more we might be able to fund some real space missions. Half a penny! (to quote Tyson)...


First understanding that the NASA budget is about one half cent of your tax dollar, you're proposing doubling its budget.

What exactly does that mean? How is it to be spent?

Does every department and project in the agency get twice what it currently does, right down to the janitor's pay? Some of them are doing fine, and more would only encourage waste.

Some of them could use more, but not twice as much. (Commercial Crew could use twice as much, considering that it has generally been allocated about half of what was requested...but even that should receive no more than a doubling.)

Some projects (*cough* SLS *cough*) are not a good idea at any price. Throwing more money at bad policy won't make it good policy. But watch and see if in your scenario, Space Launch System supporters won't try to grab more than their portion of this 'one penny' budget...and still not move an operational date any closer.

You want new starts? New programs? Prepare for the usual fight over who gets approved at all, and which of those gets how much. More money only changes the size of the fight, it doesn't go away.

The devil, as always, is in the details. NASA's problem isn't money, it's policy.

Oh, and...

quote:
But instead, we're stuck with this?


If Red Dragon works, what exactly is wrong with 'this?' Are you more interested in means, or results?


RE: So this is what budget cuts get us?
By danjw1 on 3/11/2014 1:23:06 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
For half a penny more we might be able to fund some real space missions. Half a penny! (to quote Tyson) But instead, we're stuck with this?


Actually, that is what the Red Dragon is being designed to do. But first NASA needs to accelerate the commercial crewed launch program so we can get astronauts to ISS. SpaceX is scheduled for launch abort testing this year on their Dragon Rider space ship. I believe that Elon Musk has stated he expects manned missions next year.

I also believe that Orbital Sciences is working on a manned ship.

If you really think NASA could do this in house cheaper, then I doubt you know much about government. ;-)


By fteoath64 on 3/13/2014 6:30:45 AM , Rating: 2
"If you really think NASA could do this in house cheaper,". NASA does not built ANYTHING, they have been using subcontractors all along and always have. Now they are making such subcontracting more publicly visible in changing their mode of operations. It still sucks plenty (too much) money for what they actually do. It is actually a military operations masquerading as a civilian company.
So the MIC (military industrial congressional complex) has a way to drain the finances of the people while doing so called legitimate projects that really has no fixed budget since no one could really predict how much it will cost. Or that it will work. NASA only oversees the subcontractors to ensure it conforms to specs they laid out. Again no guarantee it will work.
If any attempts were to be made, it ought to be as small a system as possibly be built. Like taking 20 grams of Martian soil via unmaned robotic probes. If these systems are very small, then parts of the journey can have duplicate or triplicate systems as backups to ensure the mission continues. ie Land a tiny lander with a soil scoop capable of a few teaspoons, then take off and rejoin the awaiting docking transports to come home.


I hope they can do it.
By JediJeb on 3/10/2014 3:30:53 PM , Rating: 5
It would be great if this gets the go and SpaceX could pull it off ahead of time and under budget. That would really put pressure on the normal contractors to improve their game.

Just like when trans-Atlantic ship crossing went from expensive state sponsored exploration missions to private sponsored commerce missions which brought the price down, it is time for space to begin the transition also.




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