AE 131

Elon Musk and Mars: Looking for a Snowball Effect

At the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico on 27 September 2016, Elon Musk revealed his plans for colonising Mars.


What is he really trying to achieve?

My first reaction was to start picking on some of the crucial aspects of going to Mars which Musk had omitted to mention. They’re obvious enough:

  • Human adaptation to low gravity;
  • The lack of a sustainable life support system independent of Earth;
  • The problem of getting costs down at the same time as getting reliability up.

But then I listened to his talk again, and I realised I’d misunderstood what he was trying to achieve.

The huge Mars launch rocket and spacecraft which he described in some detail are mind-bogglingly seductive, but they’re really a bit of a side-track. Recall some of the key points Musk made in his talk.

What Elon Musk is doing here is not to try to go it alone to Mars, or to solve all the problems himself. He’s absolutely not trying to compete with NASA. Clearly his plans conflict with NASA’s existing “Journey to Mars”, but that programme is actually pretty vague, NASA’s not a monolithic entity, and I think it must be assumed that he has support from within NASA, only not from those parts of NASA most directly interested in the Orion-SLS programme.

What he’s trying to do is to start a snowball effect to which a variety of entities from both the private sector and the government, and in a variety of countries around the world, can all contribute. He’s trying to build a coalition.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.


AE 126

The Pillar versus the Pyramid

The cartoons presented at the ESA workshop

I drew these cartoons for my presentation at the European Space Agency’s Exploration Workshop at Edinburgh in January 2007. I still think they make a good point, despite the fact that ESA was clearly not paying attention.

Microsoft Word - Ashworth_Edinburgh_talk.doc

My argument was that the traditional space architecture would be unstable and liable to collapse at any time. Thus one single space station, followed by one single Moon base, followed by one single Mars base. This is the pillar (first cartoon).

Of course a space agency would justify the pillar architecture by pointing out that they would have neither the need nor the funds to operate more than one space station. In fact they would be more likely to want to scrap the orbital station in order to free up funds for going to the Moon, and scrap any presence on the Moon in order to be able to afford Mars.

In other words, they would assume that only government scientists have any business spending time in space.

A stable, sustainable architecture, by contrast, would require a pyramid architecture (second cartoon)…

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 125

The Way Forward

Towards meaningful progress in spaceflight

Following my criticisms of the space plans of the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency, it’s heartening to read an interview with a man who has his plans clearly set on the right track.


By the “right” track I mean a trajectory leading towards the sustainable growth and progress of civilisation into the Solar System, with all that implies for the long-term security and further unfolding of our human heritage. By the “wrong” track I mean spaceflight regarded as a specialist monopoly hobby of rich governments, sending small numbers of machines and astronauts on occasional high-cost exploration missions in the service of science, prestige, spinoff and “inspiration”, but producing no permanent, let alone growth-capable, extraterrestrial infrastructure.

For the progressive view, read Alan Boyle’s interview with Jeff Bezos at the 32nd Space Symposium, reported on GeekWire.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.

AE 124

Manned Spaceflight Statistics

55 years of men and women in space

The dream came true

“The dream came true” (print from Zazzle)

On this year’s anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering orbit of the Earth, we publish bar charts showing manned spaceflight statistics over the first 55 years of space travel.

The three key indexes I have chosen are:

  • Man-days spent in space on orbital flights per calendar year
  • Number of launches to orbit per calendar year
  • Number of astronaut seats to orbit per year.

It should be clear that no spacefaring civilisation worthy of the name can even begin to be constructed until all three charts show sustainable growth.

Read the full post on the Astronautical Evolution website.