Posts Tagged NASA

NASA to send unconscious astronauts to Mars

Posted by on Tuesday, 14 October, 2014
Sleeping to Mars




NASA needs a refresher course in being human. Its latest idea is just too “cold”.

One of NASA’s contractors, Spaceworks Engineering, has proposed turning Astronauts into popsicles. The plan would keep Astronauts on a Mars mission “on ice” – hypothermia – to conserve supplies and to shrink the size of the spaceship. The unconscious astronauts would be fed intravenously and maintained by medical equipment.  Like in sci fi movies, they would be in “hibernation”. Doctors have been doing similar stuff for heart attacks and head injuries. Believe it or not, it works well.

If it works for heart attacks, why not for astronauts?


First some background.

Up till now, “manned” space trips have consisted of stiff legging it around the moon or orbiting in space hardware like the space station. The planets were considered out of reach to humans.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad never had a problem with the way things were. We’ve sent all kinds of “probes” to the planets. And we’ve explored the heck out of Mars while humans stayed mostly in earth orbit. There have been some deaths and injuries in our space program but we’ve done a lot of science without many casualties. Now there’s a big push to get humans out to Mars to “fulfill our destiny”.

This isn’t because people are a better deal then robots .

They’re not.

It’s much more expensive and much riskier to send people. Radiation is intense out there -really intense. A space ship big enough to carry people and supplies and provide some radiation shielding for such a long trip would be hard to create. Sending humans on a long journey makes everything more complicated.

For a while, I wasn’t worried. Let them lobby Congress about getting humans to Mars, I thought. Let’s face it, Congress will never bite. What’s bad about the “frozen astronaut” idea is that, with the lower costs, Congress might actually fall for the idea.



Look, it is is true that doctors have been succesfully cooling people who might die otherwise. It’s risky but it’s worth it. It takes a while to recover from a heart attack, or a busted head. Slowing things down by cooling the patient gives the body a chance to catch up with the healing process.

Astronauts aren’t dying though. The only thing wrong with their heads is that they take crazy risks. They’re in great shape. Keeping them chilled, asleep, and on intravenous lines for that long is dangerous. All kinds of bad things can happen to their hearts, their lungs, their circulatory systems, etc.  Induced hypothermia is okay in a medical crisis.  But it is not okay in the name of smaller, cheaper space ships.

We’ve been getting good science done on Mars with our rovers. And Robots will only get better – if we don’t use up too much robot money tossing men and women at the problem.

An analysis of the space shuttle indicated that 99 out a hundred flights would succeed. The one in a hundred that would fail? Believe me. You don’t want to know!

The shuttle was  just a space taxi. It was a complicated mess but making a shuttle is nothing compared to making a Mars mission. It’s too early to say what the “risk analysis” would be for a Mars mission but there’s nothing about traveling a zillion miles through intense radiation, relying on fragile systems to protect you for months and maybe years, that sounds safe. Nobody has explained how we would safely reduce levels of radiation to anything near acceptable. And do you know a bookie who would like the odds for surviving the trip and landing safely?

If they do get there, they will have absorbed way too many “rads”. They would still look like astronauts but inside that space gear would be people who were actually nasty medical experiments plunging into the abyss.

Irresponsible? You said it!

I’m not picking on NASA.  Well –  maybe I am – but, mainly,  I’m just pointing out that we should resist the irrational urge to “head for the stars”. It would be cool to see people in space suits up there (if they weren’t wretching and dying, of course) but robots are safer, cheaper, and better.

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The drawing is mine.

A New Space Craft: A Few Laptops To Do The Work Of “Mission Control”

Posted by on Sunday, 15 September, 2013



A few days ago, I wrote about a brainier dune buggy . It does a lot of the work that ground based scientists used to do.

Today I’ve got another one. A smarter rocket ship.

Why have a room full of humans  hunched over computers to control a space launch? Isn’t that from another era? If a dune buggy can be made smarter,  why not a space vehicle?


A rocket  should be able to do its own  instrument checks  asking for a “consult” only when necessary.

The Japanese  Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) read my mind. A few days ago, it launched a 3 stage rocket and, according to Science Recorder (Ellen Miller), the whole thing was controlled with just two  laptops. The rocket handled the nitty gritty, allowing the human controllers to concentrate on higher order decisions.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad was impressed.

Meanwhile, NASA’s beaming about its new “21st Century Control Center”.  It has replaced those bulky old workstations with newer “cleaner” computers But, you know what? I think NASA should have a look at what its Japanese counterpart is doing.  NASA launches more and bigger vehicles but isn’t this the direction that it should be headed?

What do you think?

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Drawing by me



Posted by on Wednesday, 10 November, 2010



Got a letter from one of my fans.

MisterScienceAintSoBad, you wrote that the manned space program is “stupid”. I think YOU’RE stupid.  – GottaBeHonest41

OK for you, GottaBe. I appreciate your candor. I guess I have been kinda rough on the manned space program. Quoting myself, quoting myself, I did say (talking about a Mars mission):

I don’t want to sound like a broken blog, but this isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the expensive conceit of sending humans to Mars. Quoting myself, “Throughout NASA’s history, there’s been considerable tension between those who believe in the symbolic importance of getting our human butts out there and those who feel that the astronomical (good word here) costs and barely manageable risks aren’t justified when robots are proving themselves so capable.”

You’re not gonna like this much, GottaBe, but  Sara Yin describes (PC Magazine)  a 1000 day project to send an astronaut-like mechanical gizmo to the moon, inspired by the practical reality that we can’t AFFORD to send humans up there during an economic recovery that most people seem to think is still a recession.

Don’t get me started.

In the past, the human or “manned” program had two things going for it:

1. No other choice since, at the time,  robots weren’t good enough.

2. Very dramatic since death always lurked round the corner.

Kept up the public’s interest, it did. A good thing since politicians could leverage the heroics of astronauts to win more public funding for pet space projects. But not much money in the pot these days and new missions are even more dangerous and problematic. Is it even possible to survive a Mars trip? Politicians are being forced to act (relatively) rational. Skip the heroics. You wanna do space? Here’s what I got. What can you do with it, pal?

NASA, it seems, got the message and it’s up with the hardware, down with the fleshware (hence NASA’s humanoid robot). The robot they came up with looks like a spaceman.spacewoman. A dead ringer for a person that’ll be able to use tools designed for human hands.



So. MisterScienceAintSoBad says we should give the robot a name and enough personality for the public to identify with. Big doe eyes too, okay?

I guess I AM kinda pleased to read that NASA has decided to send a robot to the moon all dressed up like an astronaut. There’re about 76 good reasons to do space explorations with robots instead of people at this point.  It’s cheaper, it’s safer, and it advances the art of robotics.

Must be 73 more.

ScienceAintSoBadRating for robotic space missions in lieu of human ones? Why a 10. Of course.

Drawing credit:

By Walké (Image crée à partir de Image:Bote Boas Vindas2.png) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons