Researchers Develop New Technique to Search for Chemical Evidence of Life on Mars

Despite decades of searching, definitive evidence for life on Mars, past or present, has still remained elusive and controversial. Confirmation of such a finding would need to be thoroughly tested and documented, and now researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a new technique that they hope would help to do just that, should that evidence be found by future rovers or landers.

There is already ample evidence that Mars used to have conditions much more favorable for life than it does now, including massive amounts of water. Some of that water was salty and acidic, but in other areas it was more benign, like in fresh water lakes on Earth. Gale crater, where the Curiosity rover is now, is one such location.

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments on the Curiosity rover have been able to identify carbon in Mars rocks, but are limited in determining the source of that carbon, whether biological or abiotic. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments on the Curiosity rover have been able to identify carbon in Mars rocks, but are limited in determining the source of that carbon, whether biological or abiotic. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“There has been a tremendous amount of very exciting findings this year that Mars once contained actively flowing, low-saline, near-neutral-pH water – pretty much the type of water where you find life on Earth today,” said Alison Olcott Marshall, assistant professor of geology at the University of Kansas. “This has made people think that it’s possible that life could have existed on Mars, although most researchers agree it’s unlikely to exist today – at least on the surface – as conditions on the surface of Mars are incredibly harsh.”

The new technique is designed to improve the way scientists detect condensed aromatic carbon, which is thought to be a chemical signature of life.

According to Craig Marshall, Alison Olcott Marshall’s husband and associate professor of geology at KU, “If we’re going to identify life on Mars, it will likely be the fossil remnants of the chemicals once synthesized by life, and we hope our research helps strengthen the ability to evaluate the evidence collected on Mars.”

Craig Marshall is also an expert on using Raman spectroscopy to look for carbonaceous materials. Alison Olcott Marshall is a paleontologist with expertise in how the record of life gets preserved on Earth, especially when there is no bone or shell or tooth or other hard part to fossilize.

One stumbling block is that Raman spectroscopy by itself can’t determine whether carbonaceous material has a biological origin or not (not all carbon is specifically linked to biological processes; it can occur abiotically as well).

The Viking 1 and 2 landers in the 1970s sent back tantalizing results about possible microbes on Mars, but those findings are still hotly debated today. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Viking 1 and 2 landers in the 1970s sent back tantalizing results about possible microbes on Mars, but those findings are still hotly debated today. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Raman spectroscopy works by impinging a laser on a sample so the molecules within that sample vibrate at diagnostic frequencies,” Craig Marshall said. “Measuring those frequencies allows the identification of inorganic and organic materials. It’s insufficient because however the carbonaceous material is made, it will be the same chemically and structurally, and thus Raman spectroscopy cannot determine the origin.”

To solve that problem, the Marshalls propose supplementing the Raman spectroscopy with gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy.

“Much like the search for ancient life on Earth, though, one strand of evidence is not, and should not be, conclusive,” said Alison Olcott Marshall. “This is a vast puzzle, and we want to make sure we are examining as many different pieces as we can.”

The new technique is currently being tested on Earth rocks which are similar in composition to their Martian counterparts. This could help future rovers or landers to search specifically for these kinds of compounds and analyze them with more precision than can be done now.

Curiosity has confirmed that Gale crater used to be a lake a long time ago, and was a potentially habitable environment. Image Credit: NASA

Curiosity has confirmed that Gale crater used to be a lake a long time ago, and was a potentially habitable environment. Image Credit: NASA

“If you were to pick up a typical rock on Mars it would look quite different, chemically, from a typical rock here on Earth, not to mention the fact that it would be covered in rusty dust,” Alison Olcott Marshall said. “Previous research into how Raman spectroscopy would fare on Mars was mainly done on pure salts and minerals, often ones synthesized in a lab. We identified field sites on the Kansas-Oklahoma border with a chemical content more like what could be found on Mars, right down to the rusty dust, and we’ve been exploring how Raman spectroscopy fares in such an environment.”

The new research seems to offer a promising method for a more fine-tuned search for evidence of ancient Martian life, one which could determine if any carbon found had a biological origin or not. The Curiosity rover has found trace amounts of carbon and other organics in its study of Martian rocks in Gale crater, which was also confirmed to have once been a lake, but it is limited in determining whether any of that carbon is the result of life itself or just other abiotic processes.

Just finding organics on the Martian surface is still a challenge, due to the harsh ultraviolet light as well as some other compounds in the rocks and soil such as perchlorates, which destroy them.

New techniques such as this one from the University of Kansas should help to better determine the source of any carbonaceous material found in future missions, and, perhaps, find a chemical “smoking gun” for past life on Mars.

The abstract and paper are available here.

 

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54 comments to Researchers Develop New Technique to Search for Chemical Evidence of Life on Mars

  • Gary Church

    The more stories I read on “the search for life” juxtaposed with the media bias for the NewSpace agenda- the more discouraged I become concerning space exploration.

    Mars (and the “search for life”) is gimmick- a public relations hook used to garner public support from emoting clueless sci-fi fans. Nobody is ever going to live there for the simple reason that anyone born there would dream of living on Earth. Mars is the worst place to live imaginable. The Mars niches several thousand individuals get a paycheck from and the various concerns using it to further their agenda are a distraction from the real prize; humankind expanding into space.

    Space exploration is a political jobs for votes football and also feared by the aerospace industry because they dread having to build spaceships that must work instead of cold war toys that don’t have to work very well- and are classified so nobody can even question if they work at all.

    On the right are the corporate-owned politicians mostly under the sway of the defense industry that much prefer the easy money of DOD projects. The disconnect is the mad hatter libertarian NASA-haters that are connected to the Republican party and fill the ranks of NewSpace.

    On the left are the corporate-owned politicians mostly under the sway of voters depending on jobs in the space industry- many of them government organizations and installations or contractors. The disconnect being the supposedly liberal leaning toward social program spending.

    The space program situation is that we are not going anywhere until most of the factions and the general public line up behind one plan that promises a worthwhile outcome. The best plan is Moon return and eventually exploiting lunar resources for projects like Space Solar Power. Going back to the Moon with Super Heavy Lift Vehicles bypasses LEO and dumps the NewSpace business plan in the trashcan.

    The shrill objections and cyberthuggery that surface when what I just stated is posted on public forums is proof. Which is why in my view SpaceX, the flagship company of NewSpace and demigod Musk, are the worst thing that has ever happened to space exploration.

  • Gary Church

    “Curiosity has confirmed that Gale crater used to be a lake a long time ago, and was a potentially habitable environment.”

    Exactly what is that fake picture designed to represent? That it looked that way from space a billion years ago? That we will fill it with water again and stock it with trout?

    In my view it represents NASA making stuff up trying to get the public to look anywhere except up into the night sky at the Moon. Mars should not be the agency “horizon goal.”

    • Tim Andrews

      “That we will fill it with water again and stock it with trout?”

      Perhaps the secret goal of the Musk-Illuminati driven New Space Conspiracy(TM) is really cornering the market on fishing poles optimized for use in 1/3 gravity.

      • I blame the New Space Conspiracy(TM) for the recent increase in gasoline prices. More expensive gas will push more people to drive electric vehicles built by Elon Musk or incorporating batteries and other components built by his company. This in turn will finance SpaceX’s efforts to make sure we are all forced to take our vacations in LEO where our civilization will be trapped forever. IT’S JUST SO OBVIOUS!!! 😉

      • Gary Church

        The shrill objections and cyberthuggery that surface when what I just stated is posted on public forums is proof.

        • Tim Andrews

          You must have a very stilted, one-way, “rules apply to you but not me” view of the world if a light-hearted joking reply to a portion of your post which appears to also be a light-hearted joke is “cyberthuggery.”

          • Tim, that’s the rub: *HE* isn’t joking. Say what you wish about Mr. Church, but he believes each and every word he posts on web sites like this even though the reader might think he is joking or using hyperbole to make some point.

          • Gary Church

            No Tim, it is not one-way; I have this guy Andrew that naysays and nags at every comment I make and you just joined in. So that makes it cyberthuggery to me. You can call it just good fun if you want.

            • If you have a problem with anything I post, bring it up with the moderators. Otherwise, keep your personal attacks against me and my character (or personal attacks against anyone here) to yourself.

            • Gary's Drinking Game

              Gary claims he is being bullied! Drink!

  • Definition of NON SEQUITUR
    1: an inference that does not follow from the premises; specifically : a fallacy resulting from a simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition or from the transposition of a condition and its consequent

    2: a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said

    Ironically, sharing this definition as a comment to Paul’s excellent synopsis on the latest efforts to develop instrumentation to find chemical evidence for life on Mars is an example of a non sequitor.

  • Gary Church

    That someone is inferring I should not be posting- on a thread where no one else is saying a thing- is a dead giveaway. Disgusting.

    I WILL express my views on “the search for life”, Mars, NASA, and anything else I believe is relevant. Those who try to shame and humiliate me into silence….you know where you can go. So sick of it.

    • Tracy the Troll

      Gary,
      I think we should look to Mars as a realistic option to immigrate too since the Liberals-NAZI-Fascists-MOB groups are running the planet, it won’t be long until they destroy the Earth. Considering how bad this planet is going to be with all the global warming-cooling-ice age-rising seas-massive volcanoes-rising carbon …All is lost on Earth …As if a carbon tax/credit system will save us ..No pressure but unless you have a working nuclear pulsed engine spaceship in your garage somewhere… We are all Doomed.

      • Tracy, don’t be ridiculous! Mars must be avoided at all costs because of its unclean association with the Musk-Illuminati driven New Space Conspiracy(TM). After the Moon, we must bypass tainted Mars and go straight to Ceres, Titan and the subsurface ocean paradises of the outer planet ice moons. Please keep up!

        • Tim Andrews

          Joking aside, this is another position I haven’t quite understood.

          Mars is not a very hospitable place for humans to explore. But if that’s a reason not to explore it, it should follow that we also shouldn’t explore places that are even less hospitable to human life.

          It seems to me, that Mars is probably the most hospitable non-Earth location, and as such would be a natural choice for mankind to explore further than we’ve been before.

          • Obviously, I am joking. I believe we should return to the Moon even though it is hostile to human life. We have much to learn from its exploration and it has resources that can eventually be exploited. And once we have worked out the issues surrounding reaching destinations beyond the Earth-Moon system, Mars is a logical target for human exploration and, since it is even richer in resources than the Moon, eventual resource exploitation. This idea that we need to colonize places beyond the Earth for when this planet becomes unlivable is baloney. Keeping Earth a habitable place for humans is much easier than colonizing and (especially) terraforming another world. There are other good reasons for moving beyond the Earth.

          • Joe

            Actually any place in space (Moon, Mars, Orbital Habitats, etc.)is “hostile” for humans to explore and especially settle, compared to the Earth.

            The outside world is hostile to a baby, compared to its mothers womb as well.

            That is precisely the point.

            • Tim Andrews

              The depths of the ocean, heights of Everest and poles of the earth are hostile, but well explored. I think that’s an innate drive of mankind, the desire to explore.

              There is a viewpoint that’s been presented in comments that I’ve failed to understand. Whether I agree is another issue – but discussing leads to better understanding – the kind of thing I thought comment sections like these are for.

              That viewpoint has been that it would be bad to put people on Mars because it is so inhospitable, but we should be putting humans on the moon and other less hospitable places instead. It sounds self-contradictory.

              As far as *my* opinion it just makes sense to me to push going back to the moon and developing technology to be there longer than a couple of days at a time, since it’s so relatively close, it seems like a natural stepping stone to develop the technology for manned exploration further out. It’s frustrating to that after the moon, we’ve stagnated human spaceflight in LEO.

              • John hare

                I think we need prospecting everywhere in order to find the places of best advantage to us all. IMO it is too early to settle for one at the expense of all others.

              • Joe

                The Moon may be more inhospitable than Mars, but not by much and the Moon is a lot closer. My point is that to inhabit either body will require the development of life support systems allowing settlements without need of resupply from earth.

                At one time the best argument for Mars first was that the Moon was “bone dry”. That is no significant water are other volatiles (Carbon, Nitrogen).

                The discovery of large amounts of water (and volatiles) at the Lunar Poles, changed all that.

                I agree with your point about using the Moon for technology development, but would extend that to resource development.

                Use of lunar resources will allow extensive development of large applications satellites in Cis-Lunar space that will be directly beneficial to earth bound civilization and realistic capabilities for human missions to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.

              • Gary Church

                “That viewpoint has been that it would be bad to put people on Mars because it is so inhospitable, but we should be putting humans on the moon and other less hospitable places instead. It sounds self-contradictory.”

                Mocking and “joking” others into oblivion aside, there is no contradiction in going to the Moon and exploiting the resources there. Crossing cislunar space to use lunar water as radiation shielding and lunar orbit- or the surface- as a place from which to assemble, test, and launch nuclear systems, makes LEO a dead end. The most efficient way to get to the Moon is they way we went the first time- with a Super Heavy Lift Vehicle. Shuttling little pieces into LEO is why LEO is a dead end. Even though many with vested interests in keeping the U.S. stranded in that dead end say otherwise.

      • Tim Andrews

        A lot of the SpaceX fans online express this sentiment as a reason for colonizing Mars. I don’t quite understand it though. If mankind is what has ruined the Earth, why would mankind taking over Mars do anything but ruin it as well?

  • Joe

    “agreed to stop replying to my comments, but just have to keep trying to mock and humiliate me.”

    Gary,

    I originally tried to broker the agreement that would allow civil discourse on this site.

    You also agreed to it, but then violated the spirit of that agreement by making many hostilely phrased posts repeating your positions over and over again (even attached to articles having nothing to do with the subject).

    You then complain when people respond in kind.

    There is a joke about a guy who lays down in the freeway and whistles for a taxi, then complains when he gets run over.

    I actually agree (at a top level) with some (not all) of your points. Which is why I do not want you on my side. I do not want those valid points tainted by association with you.

    • Joe

      Tell you what, every time you make a post like this one; just assume I answered you in kind (even if I do not).

      Then make another “every single time.” response.

      That will save me time, not to mention boredom and the risk of getting meta carpel tunnel syndrome.

      • Joe

        This will do no good, but the only one that keeps talking about you being banned from this site is you.

        Serious question, are you trying to get banned as some kind of weird badge of honor?

        • Gary Church

          I doubt I am going to get banned as long as you three keep the veiled insults and harassment flowing- the people running this site can see exactly what is going on.

          While they may delete my too-honest return fire they seem to understand I just want to express my views without getting maliciously cyberstalked.

    • The fact that you have to resort to personal attacks against me is proof of just how weak the arguments for your position are. It is not some vast conspiracy against you from the some imagined “NewSpace Mob” that is getting you banned from one web site after another forcing you to hide behind one alias after another, Gary/Billgamesh/ONeillfollower/Bandyetagin or what ever handle you are hiding behind this week. It is the fact that you are the penultimate extremist who will launch personal attacks against anyone who sees through the obvious factual errors and logical fallacies that fill the tirades you have been posting across the web. If you have an issue with anything I post and feel you are unable to respond in a civil manner, take it up with the moderators. Your inappropriate posts and personal attacks are the real proof of the validity of your arguments.

      • Gary Church

        Since my “personal attack” was deleted and yours is worded so perfectly that the fine line is not crossed I guess that shows everyone who is the….well, I can’t say what you are without this comment being deleted.

        So, whatever you say Andrew, keep on cred boasting and acting like you own this site….if it makes you feel good. My “factual errors” and “logical fallacies” don’t seem to be what you are concerned with as much as ad hominem rants against me because I disagree with you. Personal attacks….puh-leez.

    • BTW, I was wondering, does this mean that the well-intentioned (but ultimately, ill-advised) “gentlemen’s agreement” you brokered is now officially off? I am really getting tired of the taste of blood in my mouth from having to bite my tongue so much especially over the last several days as one non sequitor follows another tirade against the Musk-Illuminati driven New Space Conspiracy(TM) follows yet another post filled with misinformation and faulty logic to support an artificially narrow vision of our future in space only to have my character attacked at the merest hint that I disagree :-/

      • Joe

        If that comment is intended for me, I would think the answer is (rather obviously) yes.

      • john hare

        I’m also curious. It seems a bit odd to see the rest of you attacked for being newspace, when I’m one of the few that actually is newspace here. Some rational disagreement is illuminating, but not with the constant nonsense.

        • Joe

          John and Andrew,

          I have no way of knowing for sure, but based on a review of the posts remaining in this comments section; the situation may well have resolved itself.

          If that is correct, it was in a less pleasant way than would have been hoped; but probably the only way it could happen.

          I would suggest we go on with our discussions with no further reference to this situation, unless – of course – the situation resurfaces.

          • Gary Church

            I am laughing at all three of you. The game you are playing is so transparent to anyone outside your bubble it is comical.

            Ganging up on the absurd conspiracy theorist to keep this forum a nice place to visit. Riiiiight.

            • Joe

              “I am laughing at all three of you.”

              Glad to see you are developing a sense of humor.

              Now if you could just learn to laugh at yourself.

              • Gary Church

                You go ahead and laugh at yourself Joe, but don’t tell other people to.

                • Joe

                  “You go ahead and laugh at yourself Joe, but don’t tell other people to.”

                  I do laugh at myself Gary and life in general. Anyone who wants to stay sane does.

                  I did not tell you to do anything, I suggested it would be to your benefit to learn to not take yourself so seriously.

                  Every time anyone posts anything on this board other then – “I agree with everything Gary Church has ever said or thought in his entire life!” – you post about how you are being cyber-bullied, shamed, etc.

                  Please keep it up, it used to make me feel bad’ but it is now a source of pleasure and amusement.

                  • Gary Church

                    “Every time anyone posts anything on this board other then – “I agree with everything Gary Church has ever said or thought in his entire life!” – you post about how you are being cyber-bullied, shamed, etc”

                    Yes, as I said before in another comment that was deleted, people who are cyberbullying and shaming criticizing others always tell them to stop complaining. It is part of their game and since it is a source of pleasure and amusement to you Joe, enjoy.

  • Gary Church

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/10/us-usa-defense-missile-idUSBRE9B904320131210

    9.5 billion for missile defense:-they dread having to build spaceships that must work instead of cold war toys that don’t have to work very well- and are classified so nobody can even question if they work at all.

    http://democrats.science.house.gov/press-release/democrats-emphasize-need-clear-plan-utilization-international-space-station

    “the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 extended the mission of the ISS by a minimum of 5 years, from 2015 to at least October 2020.-While some may hope to extend its agreed-upon service life past 2020, we need to make sure that the 8 years that remain till the current end of the ISS program are used effectively to answer the research and engineering questions that can only be answered on the ISS.”

    It was supposed to end in 2015. Now it is going to suck up 3 billion a year till 2024. Why? Influence by a certain internet billionaire might have had something to do with it- but that could be just a (TM)crazy conspiracy theory.

    • Tim Andrews

      “It was supposed to end in 2015. Now it is going to suck up 3 billion a year till 2024. Why? Influence by a certain internet billionaire might have had something to do with it- but that could be just a (TM)crazy conspiracy theory.”

      I suppose to truly be a conspiracy theory there must be multiple people conspiring. I know you like to focus in on just Musk, but he’s not the only one lined up on the ISS gravy train.
      You’ve got Boeing, SpaceX and Orbital already bringing the money in, Boeing, Orbital and SpaceX poised to make even more money than they are now, and ULA ready to join the party, as long as congress keeps the ISS going.

      I expect we’ll see the ISS keep getting extended and upgraded long past its original planned program life, just as we did with the shuttle program.

      • Personally, getting the ISS mission extended is fine with me! I am currently involved in a remote sensing project to estimate the strength of tropical cyclones more accurately than before using satellite data. Currently, the ISS crew are taking images of such storms to support our data processing algorithm development and mission planning. Hopefully, within a couple of years, we will fly a prototype instrument suite on the ISS to provide a proof of concept. Eventually we will transition to an operational system with a constellation of small LEO satellites. This whole R&D process is made much easier with the capabilities of the ISS available and is one tiny example of the useful science that can be done from ISS (not to mention that this R&D work and the eventual operational satellite constellation is another example among dozens to counter the absurd claim made by some that LEO is a dead end).

        http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1973.html#overview

        • Tim Andrews

          Oh, I’m fine with it too, I don’t think it’s outlived its usefulness.

          Were I calling the shots we’d be spending less money pretending that terrorism is a country we can fight a war against and put those resources to keeping the ISS rolling, developing safer, lower cost ways to get to it and continuing the Constellation program, with direct goals of a lunar base making use of resources there and pushing on to Mars and other destinations.

          If I have a beef with SLS, it’s not that it’s expensive to develop, it’s that we are doing it without also spending the money to develop landers and habitats to go with it, and significant missions to utilize them. It’s like building a ship to explore what’s on the other side of the ocean, before really figuring out where you want to go, how long you will be gone, what supplies you need for the trip, and with no landing boats to go ashore once you get there. There’s cartoon that ran on AmericaSpace that expresses, NASA and the president’s goals for the SLS – at least as I understand them: http://www.americaspace.com/?p=3083

          Back to topic, I’d love to see the ISS continue to be utilized, I’m just not convinced that extending the ISS, and performance-based contracting multiple vendors for ISS resupply and crew transport is solely because of the influence of one person and his hobby. There are numerous, businesses with more political clout lobbying for it for their financial benefit as well.

          • Joe

            “Were I calling the shots we’d be spending less money pretending that terrorism is a country we can fight a war against and put those resources to keeping the ISS rolling, developing safer, lower cost ways to get to it and continuing the Constellation program, with direct goals of a lunar base making use of resources there and pushing on to Mars and other destinations.”

            That is exactly what the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) called explicitly and in detail.

            Unfortunately the VSE was also dumped when Constellation Systems was cancelled.

            • Joe

              One small correction, the VSE wisely did not address politics outside the NASA Budget.

              It did call for the “direct goals of a lunar base making use of resources there and pushing on to Mars and other destinations” part.

          • “…I’m just not convinced that extending the ISS, and performance-based contracting multiple vendors for ISS resupply and crew transport is solely because of the influence of one person and his hobby. There are numerous, businesses with more political clout lobbying for it for their financial benefit as well.”

            Oh I *KNOW* that extending the ISS mission is not just because of the desires of a single individual or company. Suggestions that it is are laughably divorced from reality! In addition to the usual mega-size aerospace interests who want to see the life of the ISS extended are a multitude of smaller companies like the one I work for and we’re partnered with for our little project. The full potential of the ISS to support science projects, large and small, as well as our long-term goals for space exploration have hardly been tapped.

            • Gary Church

              “-companies like the one I work for-”
              “The full potential of the ISS-”
              “-have hardly been tapped.”

              So transparent.

              • Yes, it is perfectly transparent that I work for a small company with an interest in the ISS just as I have stated. But in the interests of perfect transparency, the company is called Visidyne (currently with a dozen employees) and it specializes in the study of atmospheric phenomena. The company has been doing this work since it was founded in 1969 and I have been involved in remote sensing data analysis since I rejoined the company in 1992. Here is a link to the company web site:

                http://www.visidyne.com/

                We have no connection, direct or indirect, with any “NewSpace” company and our space-related work with NASA, NOAA, DoD as well as other agencies, governments, companies and labs predates “NewSpace” by decades. Personally, I have no financial interest in “NewSpace” or indeed any aerospace company (aside from Visidyne) and philosophically I consider myself a “NewSpace” agnostic.

                In addition to my “full time” job as a senior project scientist at Visidyne, for 25 years I have been a freelance writer specializing in astronomy and the history of spaceflight. A full list of all of my work (and access to the vast majority of it) is available on my web site, Drew Ex Machina, which can be accessed by clicking on my name on the top of this and all of my comments. As can be seen, none of my published work has been about any “NewSpace” efforts (pro or con) and at best they have been mentioned only in passing to give some present-day context to historical articles.

                So there you go: perfect transparency of who I am and my interests, personal and professional. While I do have an interest in continuing the mission of the ISS (as do many others), I have no connection with “NewSpace” (just like many others with and without any interest that overlap with mine). And if the ISS were to be no longer available to support my current work, we would switch to some other space-based platform as we have done for decades before.

                Sorry that my personal story doesn’t fit neatly into your simple “anti-NewSpace”/”NewSpace Mob” narrative.

          • Gary Church

            “-direct goals of a lunar base making use of resources there-”

            “If I have a beef with SLS, it’s not that it’s expensive to develop, it’s that we are doing it without also spending the money to develop landers and habitats to go with it,-”

            The way around that is the wet workshop and robot landers to shuttle ice products up from deposits at the lunar poles. Semi-expendable robots can land on these deposits, take on a load of water- and the volatiles trapped in the ice- convert some of it into propellent and then return to the empty upper stages in lunar polar “frozen” orbit and transfer the water. And then repeat. The workshops will eventually have massive radiation shields and be waiting for astronauts to come and start the real work. One of the first projects being to attach a thousand foot plus tether system to a pair of these workshops to provide artificial Earth gravity. This could theoretically be accomplished with just three SLS launches; the two workshops with their landers and a third later bringing the astronauts and tether system.

            The result would be a one gravity fully shielded true space station in lunar orbit with near sea level radiation and proof against the worst possible solar event.

            Compare that to the space station to nowhere.