NASA’s idea for a space station in lunar orbit takes humanity nowhere
Ethan Siegel

SLS needs to die. Expendable rocket, 1 billion dollars per launch? It’s ten times more expensive than the state of the art permits. There’s exactly no plan at NASA for using SLS to get to a Mars landing. Pork, not science or the urge to explore other worlds, is all that keeps SLS alive.

The new class of heavy-launch, recoverable rockets under development by commercial corporations will bring down launch costs dramatically for missions beyond Earth orbit.

Yeah, the moon-orbit station is nonsense.

I don’t buy one of Ethan’s arguments, though. He appears to advocate for throwing NASA’s robotic exploration and science missions under the bus so we can concentrate on putting bootprints on Mars. Not smart. First, continuing to invest in robotic exploration and science missions will help to propel robotics tech and science. Both are more valuable to us than boot prints accumulating dust on Mars, and cheaper to pursue. AI isn’t here quite yet, true — but it’s coming, and NASA’s science programs are their real accomplishments in the post-Apollo age.

We can explore, and do science, without the cost of sending people (trust me, it’s *very* expensive to send people).

There’s no point, in my mind, to sending astronauts to Mars for a short stay. We can get far better results for the expense from robotic missions; and as robotics and AI get better, we can use machines to build colony infrastructure, so that when we *do* send people, they won’t have to come back right away. Semi-permanent colonies for science make sense, but only once we’ve got the infrastructure in place. Human wrench-turners won’t be able to build it. It’s going to have to be done by machines.

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