Broadcast 3128 Dr. John Connolly

The Space Foundation Conference

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Guest:  John Connolly; Topics:  Human spaceflight to Mars including the Moon, technology, orbital dynamics, mission trades, propulsion frustration issue.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See   

We welcomed John Connolly from NASA JSC to the show for a two segment one hour thirty-two minute discussion about our human spaceflight program, going to Mars, returning to the Moon and more. During the first segment, I opened up by asking Mr. Connolly what NASA was doing to get us to Mars, hopefully in my lifetime (I'm 72).  Most of the first segment of the program was a discussion focused on answering this opening question.  For example, our guest talked about how NASA had approaching and considering the question of humans to Mars since the Apollo era.  He talked about how mission architecture plans had evolved and given that today there is yet no architecture in place, the plans were still fluid.  He frequently mentioned the Gateway (LOP-G) as helping us get to Mars via a focus on the Moon.  Don't miss his explanation on these topics, how he explained support for the Gateway and related probable policy decisions that will likely become our return to the Moon and on to Mars set policy. 

I asked John about NASA budget issues, over promising, excessive rhetoric, and not being funded to do all that NASA says it will do.  He had much to say on this subject so don't miss his comments but he said if you add into the mix contributions from international partners and the commercial players, the budget issues become manageable.  Again, don't miss his analysis re the NASA budget issue question I asked him.

Tupper called from Maryland to inquire about Mars cyclers.  John explained how they work, suggesting they would be more applicable and useful to later more routine Mars missions instead of the initial and early on missions.  Generally John was supportive of cyclers but not early on.  Let us know what you think about cyclers by posting your thoughts on our blog for this show.  He then said that we would not be doing Apollo style short trips but instead longer missions around 18 months in duration.

Turning our focus to the Mars mission, John said propulsion was the biggest challenge.  Don't miss his explanation for this statement.  He talked about LOP-G and the role it would play in propulsion despite it not being in a perfect orbit but still in an orbit to facilitate efficient and effective propulsion choices.  We talked nuclear propulsion, chemical propulsion with specific fuel choices and SEP.  Again, an important segment to hear and note.  Our guest repeated why the Gateway would be beneficial for going to Mars.

Mr. Connolly talked about human systems and referenced the ISS.  He said our TRL for human systems and life support was a mixed bag.  One thing of interest he pointed was in reference to my comments about needing a closed loop life support system.  He said that may not be completely necessary since they could start using ISRU on Mars to support and supplement life support.  If so, then we may not need a completely closed loop system but it would be Earth independent. 

Listener Jack asked about the SpaceX plan to go to Mars and asked our guest for his thoughts on and what NASA thought about it.  This was an interesting discussion so for sure don't miss it.  It may surprise you.  BJohn asked why we don't go to the Martian moons first.  Listen to what Mr. Connolly said in response to BJohn's question but as you will hear later in the show, BJohn dismissed what our guest had to say and continue to pursue his choice for the initial Mars mission.  While talking about destinations other than the Martian surface, I asked our guest about the Lockheed plan for the Mars Base Camp (previously discussed on the program) and noted the similarities with Base Camp and LOP-G.  John had interesting and positive comments to say about the Mars Base Camp concept.

More discussion followed regarding nuclear propulsion and other propulsion matters.  More was said by another listener re closed loop life support, then we went to the second segment of the program. 

For the second segment, I led with the lost question from the end of the first segment from Baker in Boston inquiring about the extent the Moon was necessary for getting us to Mars.  Our guest had much to say on this question so don't miss it.  You may want to share your own thoughts on this topic with us on the blog.  BJohn sent in another note dismissing what our guest had to say concerning to the Martian moons first regarding the issues focused on inclination, the plane of the ecliptic, and approaching Martian moons from angle.  BJohn dismissal of what our guest said and his promotion of his own idea on this subject was carried over to blog comments and it is still going on at this time.  Others have chimed in on the blog with their thoughts on this matter including James Fincannon and Kim Holder.  For the record, I've reached out to three actual specialists in orbital dynamics and space mission flight planning to get their thoughts on the subject that was raised on the show.  I directed the three to see all the comments being posted on this subject on the blog. If and when I get the replies from those I have contacted and with their permission, I will put their comments on the blog.  It is worth noting that to the best of my knowledge, the people commenting on the Martian moons and ecliptic questions, including BJohn who raised the issue, are not orbital dynamics trained people, nor am I.  This includes our guest though he said he was familiar with the questions being raised and that at NASA they had many meetings dealing with the issue as it related to the Martian moons.  More to come I hope so check the blog for more on this subject.

Changing the subject, I asked our guest about the recently release Pew Research Study showing low numbers for people interested in going to Mars and the same for those commenting on humans going back to the Moon.  John and I discussed reasons for such low interest.  I suggested bad media reporting causes a gap that eventually leads to disinterested in the public.  John thought the questions were bad because the Mars and Moon programs were not yet real while the planetary science programs were real. He thought the support would increase once we kick our human spaceflight program into high gear.  Listen to all of what was said on this subject.  Your blog comments are certainly welcome.

As we were getting close to the end of the program, our guest was asked about humans to Mars and planetary protection.  For sure you do not want to miss this discussion.  Mars sample returns were talked about and more.  The final email came from Todd in San Diego regarding SLS and commercial Blue and SpaceX big launchers.  Our guest pointed out that SLS was an ultra-heavy lift launcher without a viable commercial market.  He suggested that since there was a need for ultra-heavy lift, the market would be left to the government, thus SLS.  We concluded the discussion with a note on frustration which included working on a project and retiring before you see it fly or come to fruition. 

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog.  You can contact John Connolly through TSS or his NASA JSC address.




Humans to Mars, Updated FISO talk and Explore Mars Humans 2Space Conf. Talk

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08 Jun 2018 John Connolly
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