Figure 1. Phobos as seen by Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (MRO), in color. Click for full image.
All images in this article are courtesy NASA, JPL, and JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, and are in the public domain.



Sol Sun

MercuryMercury ____________

VenusVenus crescent

Earth &
Earth's Moon

Mars Mars: Spirit 
       Sol 30 ____________

Asteroids Vesta

Jupiter Jupiter storm 
       north of Great Red Spot ____________

Saturn Saturn's Rings

Uranus Uranus' Rings

Neptune Neptune

Pluto & Pluto Kuiper Belt

Comets &
Oort Cloud

Comments & Submissions ____________

What would happen if NASA got all the money spent on wars?

By F. E. Harris,
and A. L. Kennedy

June 21, 2014


I don't know the exact amount that has been spent but let's just say NASA got a check for 10 trillion dollars. What are some things that should/could be possible now? What is something you would like to see? It's crazy to think that we have the ability to change our history forever yet were so ignorant to do so.


Is that with or without the lawyers...?
and lobbyists?

One could get into long arguments about whether the correct figure is 4 trillion dollars, or 11 trillion dollars, or something in between. Just the US military and projected veterans administration costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is close to the lower figure, while estimates that include all the world's armies plus a reasonable valuation for the civilain casualties and destroyed homes and factories due to war, results in a figure higher than 10 trillion dollars. Let's sidestep the political discussion and stick to the core of the question: What if the workers who now buld F35s and air craft carriers were shifted to building spacecraft and launch pads? What are some of the projects that could be done?

  • Moon base, space hotels at LEO, EML1 or EML2, and a 3 stage shuttle system: space taxi to LEO, LEO to Lunar orbit or Lagrange points shuttle, and shuttle from there to the surface.
  • Moon South Pole Lunar power generation:Start near the poles, where you want to be to mine Lunar ice. Ring the rim of Shackleton crater (at the South pole) with a band of Solar cells. 1/2 of them will be in sunlight at all times. This provides continuous power for the base, the gas plant, and the solar cell factory. As time goes on, build rings of solar cells and power lines farther North, until you are generating more power than a dozen nuclear power plants. Build steel and aluminum mills. Steel you get from meteoric iron. Aluminum you get from the rocks, with Oxygen as a desirable biproduct.
  • Lunar Space Elevator Space elevator(s) on the Moon: Using any of the 6 or so strongest artificial fibers, Lunar space elevators from the surface to EML1, which I favor, or to EML2, which NASA favors, could easily be built. If part of the cable is in the form of hollow, sealed tubes, then it can be used as a gas pipeline, to ship methane and oxygen up or down. Shipping Nitrogen bearing gasses down the pipe might be needed for a Lunar colony.
  • Asteroid Itokawa Asteroid redirect and mining: The Moon is a ready source of steel, Aluminum, silicon for solar cells, and oxygen for rockets and breathing, but there is only a little hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. These are needed for life, and 2 of them for rocket fuel. There are plenty of asteroids that are rich in H, C, and N, as well as other nice things like platinum and gold. There are 2 approaches you could take to mining asteroids.
    1. Build factories on each asteroid, and shoot steel cannon shells back toward Earth, with cargo inside. Cargo might be water, oil, tar, or nitrogen-bearing chemicals. Platinum and gold would ride on the outside of the shell, to improve heat shielding. Aerobraking slows the shells slightly, so that they end up almost stopped at EML1 or EML2, where they get picked up for orbital or Lunar use.
    2. Attach ion engines and solar cells to the asteroid, and bring the whole thing back to the vicinity of the Moon for mining and processing. This has been shown to be safer and more profitable.
  • Asteroid Gaspra Asteroid redirect to make Aldrin cyclers: Using ion drives and solar cells, asteroids would be nudged into orbits that periodically cross near the Earth and Mars, Jupiter and Earth, or Saturn and Earth. They could be hollowed out, and turned into luxury liners to carry people to and from the planets. Shielding could be heavy enough so that riding one of these would give no more radiation than staying home on Earth. Like cruise ships, these could become profitable enterprises that are occupied full time by service staff. (Only the first 2, between Earth and Mars, would be done for a trillion dollars. After that, more would be built from the profits.)
  • Phobos and Deimos Phobos base: 2 of the easiest to reach asteroids for mining, are the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos. We would not want to move them from their present locations, because they are are uniquely well suited to support the colonization of Mars. Phobos is in a lower orbit, and appears to contain much water ice, carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen, in substances typical of carbonaceous chondrite asteroids. Solar cells, a gas/fuel plant, and a tank farm there, as well as underground living quarters, would make travel to and from Mars much easier and safer.
  • Viking 1
    Mars base:If you spend the time and effort to have robots prepare a Mars base and refueling station, the larger rockets that people require would be able to land on the surface, under power, with dry tanks. They could then refuel and take off, using the same engines used for landing, and arrive at Phobos base with dry tanks. At Phobos, they would refuel for the trip home. The trips to Mars and back could be done in the spacecraft, but a better system would be to make use of the Aldrin cyclers mentioned above. Then, a craft similar to an Apollo capsule would take you from the planet to the cycler, where you would travel for most of the journey in shielded luxury. You would re-board your capsule for the transition from cycler to orbit, when going to Mars, or from cycler to splashdown, when returning to Earth.
So, that is 6 major projects, each with a less-than trillion dollar price tag. Some of these might be done for as "little" as 2 to 5 billion dollars. The time scale for putting the Aldrin cyclers in place is something like 40 years, minimum, and the Mars base, maybe 30 years, but most of the rest of these projects could have been completed since 2001, for around 75% of the cost of the Iran/Iraq wars. They would have pumped up the US economy and jobs market, instead of depleting it, and ~5000 American lives, and over 100,000 Iraqi and afghan lives would have been saved.

It occurs to me I said nothing about science. The budget for JWST by itself, is less than 0.01% of these projects. All the space science anyone could dream up, could be done for 1% the cost of these projects combined. Probes to Uranus and Neptune, giant space telescopes and interferometers operating beyond the orbit of Neptune, Lunar farside telescopes and interferometers, could all be accommodated by a 1% or 2% set-aside for science, from each of these projects. Geology/planetology, of course, would be science goals within the Lunar, asteroid, and Mars projects.

Section 1: Moon base and transportation

Moon South Pole
Figure 2. The rim of Shackleton crater, near the Moon's South pole, is considered the best location for the first Moon base, since solar power is available on the mountain peaks, all year round.

NASA has done proposals for this, using either Falcon Heavies or Delta 4s to lift fuel to orbiting depots, with projected costs. Included in the plan is building a reusable Lunar lander, that can take off and return to Lunar orbit. The following documents are available in PDFs from NASA:
"Exploration Platform in the Earth-Moon Libration System Based on ISS," by Michael Raftery The Boeing Company, and Dr. Alexander Derechin S.P. Korolev RSC Energia Oct 1, 2012 IAC
describes a reusable lander and Earth to Moon transport using the SLS.

"Propellant Depot Requirements Study Status Report," HAT Technical Interchange Meeting, July 21, 2011
describes setting up a similar "space line" to the surface of the Moon, for 1/3 the cost, using either Delta 4s or Falcon Heavies for tankers to lift fuel to a depot in low Earth orbit.

"Space Transport and Engineering Methods: An Introduction to Space Systems Engineering," Section 3.4, describes the technique of "air mining" Earth's atmosphere, using a Solar powered scoop, in an eccentric low Earth orbit. Ths method would cut the cost of providing Oxygen for rockets and breathing to a tiny fraction of other methods. With this, only fuel need be provided by Falcon 9 or Delta 4 rockets, for the trip to the Moon.

"Space Transport and Engineering Methods: An Introduction to Space Systems Engineering," Section 4.11, describes how to begin Lunar mining, and how to build the first seed factories and foundries. Seed factories begin with a small collection of robots shipped from Earth, that make other robots and machine tools. Only integrated circuits, and a few other small parts, need to be shipped from Earth. Motors, Chassis, bins, tanks, basically 99% of the mass needed, can be made from local materials.

Human presence is optional on the Moon, in the early seed factory stage. Robots can build underground caverns, or steel or brick buildings, into which inflatable habitats can be inserted. As operations on the Moon grow more complex, humans will become essential. Later, large steel structures, covered with thick layers of regolith, will provide living space on the Moon. One feature of these buildings will be large centrifuges, where people can exercise in Earth equivalent gravity ~every day. This will probably be essential to long term health.

Projected Costs:

As shown in NASA documents listed above, regular Lunar ladings, with a base, can be done for $25 -$50 billion dollars, over a 10 year period, epending on whether Falcon Heavies, Delta 4 heavies, or the SLS is used for primary transportation. Adding a seed factory to this mix would add no more than $5 billion, and might reduce costs, since so much less would need to be transported from Earth. If air mining can be implemented, tankers need only carry fuel, not oxidizer, to orbit, and costs can be further reduced by ~25%.

Section 2: Space Elevator to the Lunar Surface

Moon Space Elevator
Figure 2. Lunar space elevator utilizing old ISS modules as an anchor and living quarters. Credit: F. Harris

The concept of a space elevator from the Earth's surface is well known, but it may not be practical. A space elevator from the Moon's surface uses a slightly different principle to operate, and the lower gravity makes it practical with commercailly available materials.

The main problems with building a space elevator from Earth are,

  1. Space junk in low Earth orbit. Tens of thousands of small bits, and hundreds of derelict satellites, are in low Earth orbit. The space elevator cable would be under enormous tension. A strike from a pebble-sized piece of debris would snap the cable, with disasterous results.
  2. The required strength of the cable is beyond any material that can be manufactured at this time. Long carbon nanotubes will eventually solve this problem, but with a smaller margin of reserve strength than most civil engineers would accept.
  3. Assembly presents great difficulties. No one knows how to do this now, although this problem should be solvable, eventually.
A Lunar space elevator is a far easier proposition.
  1. Space junk is a very minor problem in Lunar orbit. Low Lunar orbits are unstable, due to Lunar masscons. There have been very few satellites placed in Lunar orbit, and both natural and man made orbital junk is cleared by the masscons, and the nearby Lunar Lagrange Points. The space elevator cable would be under much lower tension, and would have at least triple redundant strength. A strike from a pebble-sized piece of debris would not snap the cable, only one of the three parallel strands. Repairs could be made without shutting the cable down.
  2. The required strength of the cable is well within what can be manufactured at this time. I did the calculation for Kevlar, with a X3 margin of safety, which most civil engineers would accept.
  3. Assembly of a Lunar space elevator is simple. There are no angular momentum issues that complicate assembly of a cable to Earth.
  1. The Wikipedia page,, gives a better analysis in most respects, than my calculations. All I have to add is that it would serve as a freight elevator for bulk cargo, as a pipeline for shipping gasses to or from the Moon, that my calculations yielded a mass of 57,000 kg for a triple strength Kevlar tapered cable, and that assembly is meerly a matter of lowering the narrow end of the cable to the Moons surface, while movng the counterweight slightly away from the Moon.
  2. "The Space Elevator Concept," NASA SSER Institute video, August 28, 2012. deals mostly with Lunar space elevators.

Projected Costs:

I've done the math, for a space elevator from EML1 to the surface of the Moon, and with a 3 to 1 safety margin, it comes out 57 metric tons. It could mass ~1/2 as much, if more advanced fibers are used. It does not have to be carried to EML1 all in one trip. 10 Falcon Heavies could deliver it, 5.7 tons at a time.

The counter weight could be either an asteroid moved into Lunar orbit, or else all or part of the ISS, boosted to EML1 by a combination of chemical rockets, until it got to ~1000 km altitude, and ion engines powered by the station's solar cells.

The easiest part of the operation is dropping the cable to the Moon. Unreeling it at EML1, the Moon's gravity provides enough tension to keep it straight. The counter weight would have to be moved back slightly, toward the Earth, as the cable is unreeled. There are none of the angular momentum issues that make this strategy difficult for an Earth cable. Small rockets attached to the end of the cable could guide it to the selected landing spot on the Moon. Grapples on the end of the cable could grab a boulder, or a base could be prepared to receive the cable end.

CisLunar space is much emptier than Earth orbital space. Also, most Lunar orbits are unstable, so Lunar orbital space is continually cleared of natural objects. Unlike the Earth space elevator, this cable will last decades without a hit, and even then, a pebble will only destroy 1 of the 3, redundant cables.

Add all this up, and the cable can be done for less than 2 billion dollars. The rest of the project might run another 2 to 5 billion dollars, depending on how elaborate the preparations on the Moon's surface are, and whether the counterweight is the recycled ISS, or a captured asteroid.

Section 3: Asteroid redirect and mining

Asteroid Itokawa
Figure 3. Asteroid Itokawa is a good candidate for asteroid mining. The large boulders near the center of the picture are about the size of houses, and could be brought back whole. Credit JAXA

There has been considerable argument that this should be the first project done, that it will quickly yield profits, and that it will eventually pay for the other projects. I refer to Planetary Resources, a company started by senior Microsoft and Google executives, to find and mine asteroids.

I will note only that sending a seed factory to a larger asteroid, would permit facilities like tanks and a chemical plant to be built, before the asteroid arrives in cisLunar space. Refining fuel from asteroid materials could begin while the asteroid was in transit, yielding immediate profits when the asteroid gets to the vicinity of Earth.

Projected Costs:

Planetary Resources has proudly announced that they already have revenue streams. My estimate is that for under $5 billion, they will be able to capture, return, and mine several small asteroids. Given the value of light elements for rocket fuel in Earth orbit and above, profitability seems inevitable.

Section 4: Asteroid redirect to make Aldrin cyclers

Asteroid Gaspra
Figure 4. Asteroid Gaspra is too large, at 7 km, to be moved into a cycler orbit. It appears to be a very solid body, not a rubble pile, and thus of the right type to be moved. Credit NASA

The same technology used for asteroid redirect and mining, can be used to redirect an asteroid into an aldrin cycler orbit. Aldrin Cycler orbits, first conceived by Buzz Aldrin, of Apollo 11, are orbits that periodically cross close to Earth and Mars, permitting faster and larger craft to repeatedly make the trip.

How long would a cruise asteroid take? From the Mars cycler page on wikipedia Aldrin, Landau, & Longuski, calculated the first such orbit, 146 days to get to Mars, ~1.5 years to return, or 2.135 years total, for one orbit. Others have calculated faster orbits, as little as 75 days to get to Mars, but over 10 years to return to Earth. For every fast to mars, slow to return orbit, there is also a fast to Earth, slow to get to Mars orbit in the cycler family of orbits, so the preferred rock for the return journey would probably be about 146 days to return, and then it would coast for ~1.5 years to get back in position for the next fast Mars to Earth journey. This compares to about 180 days for a typical spacecraft orbit to get to Mars.

Aldrin's original orbit has the shortest time on the return leg, of any orbit in the Wikipedia table. For that reason it is probably the best orbit, because it makes the most round trips per decade. The eccentric orbits followed by cyclers generally extend well into the main belt of asteroids. Someday, people may ride a Mars cycler to reach a main belt asteroid that happens to be well positioned in its orbit.

Projected Costs:

This project, so far as I know, has not been subjected to NASA, Boeing, or Planetary Resources cost studies. It involves not only docking with and redirecting asteroids, but also building crew quarters, life support, including greenhouses, passenger docking and housing facilities, and refueling facilities for docking spacecraft. It is likley that a manned (and womanned) crew will be needed, not only for the 146 day trip to Mars, but for the entire 2.135 year orbit. Life support would have to include elaborate facilities like a centrifuge, to maintain the health of passengers and crew.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that building and operating 2 Mars cyclers would each cost twice as much as the ISS, even if seed factories are employed to make most of the facilities from local materials. Without seed factories, the cost could be 100 times higher. Call it $600 billion, for 40 years of operation.

Section 5: Phobos Base

2 moons
Figure 5. Martian moons Phobos, Diemos in color.

For one thing, after the Moon, Phobos is probably the easiest body in the solar system to return samples. When arriving at Mars, a spacecraft can partially brake to orbit using Mars's atmosphere. Rendezvous with Phobos is fairly simple, after that.

Phobos, only about 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) in diameter, has less than one-thousandth the gravity of Earth. That's not enough gravity to pull the moon into a sphere, so it's oblong.1,2 Phobos has such low gravity, that landing on Phobos is more of a docking maneuver. Getting a sample could be as easy as having coring tubes or grasping claws mounted on the landing legs, to capture dust and small pebbles. Roving on Phobos could be done with springs that make the rover hop, much like a grasshopper on Earth.

Taking off requires only slight rocket thrust. Returning to Earth from Mars orbit requires far less fuel, than taking off from the surface.

Phobos and Diemos
Figure 6. Phobos and Diemos, as seen from the surface of Mars. Animated GIF, made from time lapse photos

Some space scientists say Phobos is a captured asteroid. Others say it is a moon, much like our own. The best way to settle the question is probably to visit, and get samples.

Phobos's surface has clearly been extensively reworked by meteor impacts. Materials from deep within have probably been pulverized and brought to the surface. So not only would a sample return mission from Phobos provide us with samples from the surface of a second moon, or a second asteroid, but also possibly samples from deep within, as well.

Phobos has a unique topography. There are grooves covering the surface of Phobos, which at first glance appear similar to the grooves on Vesta,3 but there are important differences. The grooves on Vesta are concentric circles, centered on the two largest impact craters on that asteroid. Vesta's grooves are like lines of lattitude. The grooves on Phobos run from the "leading pole," or West Pole, to the the "trailing pole," East Pole. What I mean by that, is that Phobos always presents one face to Mars, like the Earth's Moon does to the Earth. But Phobos orbits so low over Mars that it gives the impression of being like an aircraft (well, a giant blimp) flying over Mars, with a nose and a tail. The nose is the West, or leading pole, and the tail is the East, or trailing pole.

With this orientation, the grooves on Phobos appear as if they were lines of longitude, or the stitching on a football, with the "points" of the football at the East and West poles. See figure 1 at the top of this page. I strongly reccoment you click on the image, to see it at full size.

Phobos Grooves
Figure 7. Grooves on Phobos.

How did the grooves on Phobos form? It's anyone's guess at this point, to be settled by future lander or rover missions. But my opinion is that Phobos orbits low enough over Mars, that it experiences a very slight atmospheric friction, or wind. The wind is very thin, but it always blows the same direction, at thousands of miles per hour. Over millions of years, it has blown boulders across the surface, from one pole to the other, leaving the grooves we see.

Phobos crater streaks
Figure 8. Phobos. Stickney crater, showing dark streaks.

Another process on Phobos is very similar to what we see on Vesta. That is dark streaks from landslides on the walls of craters.3 The dark streaks on Phobos are probably due to organic Carbon, which could be useful both for manufacturing rocket fuel, and for life support applications.

There is much more to be learned at Phobos. It is a good target for future probes and human expeditions.

Projected Costs:

Cost could be low, if the Phobos base is just a seed factory and a tank farm, for refueling passing space craft. A higher price tag could include elaborate crew quarters, with health facilities like centrifuges and gardens, and perhaps even a pressurized dry dock, for repairing space craft. A lot depends on how many passengers will be transiting to Mars. A price tag of anywhere from $10 billion, to $200 billion, is possible.

Section 6: Mars Base

Viking 1
Figure 9. First color picture from the surface of Mars, taken by Viking 1. Credit NASA/JPL

I see this as the big one, because it is so open ended. Most of the projects described above, lead up to this. There are many elaborate plans for Mars bases, published by many groups. I am going to summarize, and make some wild guesses as to costs.

Mars base could be built long before the Aldrin cyclers are in position to carry passengers, but after a minimal Phobos base has been established. Before people can land on Mars, it will be necessary to build a refueling station on the surface. Returning from Mars would be all but impossible, unless one could refuel on the surface, and refuel again in orbit, at Phobos. By all but impossible, I mean 100 to 1000 times more expensive, if fuel for the return journey has to be carried from Earth.

The refueling station on Mars should mostly be created by the seed factory principle. A small set of robots would be landed on Mars, equipped to build a chemical plant, refine steel, and build other robots. Several years of preparation would result in the first manned expedition leaving for Mars, only after fuel tanks for the return journey would be assured of refills, food and life support supplies were already laid in, and living quarters under the surface had already been built.

The object of the first manned expedition would be exploration, so the seed factory should build exploration vehicles for the astronauts. A pair of fast roving cars, built for human drivers, would be needed. For longer trips, using the Mars lander for suborbital hops might be considered.

Orbital dynamics dictate that the minimum stay on Mars would be about 2 years, unless an extended period of time is also spent at Phobos base. This requires a lot of supplies, but also permits a lot of science to be done, especially if the astronauts have a lot of surface mobility.

Phobos Eclipse
Figure 10 : Phobos Passes in Front of Sun's Face, Nov. 9, 2010, as seen by Mars rover Spirit.

Since before the cyclers are ready, Mars travellers are likely to be exposed to high levels of radiation, and extended periods of low or no gravity, they may arrive at Mars in bad physical condition. They may require convalescence anbd rehabilitation at Phobos base, or on the surface. Once there, an assessment of their health miight indicate some of them are better off staying on Mars, than attempting the return journey.

What does all this say about cost? Phase 1, building the base with robots, either requires great advances in autonomous operation, or it requires a crew of human controllers on Phobos, directing the robots in some activities they cannot perform on their own. Cost for phase 1 might be $40 billion to $100 billion. The first manned landing on Mars, probably another $40 billion, and subsequent landings, at least $20 billion each. Say there are 6 landings before the cyclers are ready. That makes ~$240 billion, before the cyclers are ready. After the cyclers are ready, cost per person to Mars drops dramatically, to under $ 1 billion per person.


1. "NASA Spacecraft Images Mars Moon in Color and in 3D," Jet Propulsion Laboratory News, 04.09.2008
2. "Phobos (moon)," Wikipedia artcle, 11 October, 2011.
3. "Fresh crater with dark and bright material," Dawn- Image of the Day, October 9, 2011, JPL-Dawn-Vesta web site.
4. The source for most of the pictures in this article, and many more pictures of Phobos is the JPL web site's photojournal search page.
Off TopicFunny Pictures from Orbit

© 2011 F. E. Harris for Hypertek Publications. All Rights Reserved.