Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ten Questions for HSF Committee - Question 4

Should Venus orbit be included in the Flexible Path?

Another potential Flexible Path (deep space) destination that was not listed in the Committee's report is Venus orbit. One could argue that Mars orbit is more compelling than Venus orbit because of the Mars moons, unassisted views of the Martian surface from orbit, and greater potential for later astronaut work on that surface. Such an argument could be quite convincing. However, if Mars orbit is reached, it seems that the option to reach Venus orbit could then be considered, at least as a Flexible Path "off-ramp".

Venus orbit allows teleoperation of surface robots just as Mars orbit does. The heat at Venus's surface may make teleoperations even more useful because heat-producing and heat-sensitive electronics on surface robots can be replaced with telecommands. As with Mars, teleoperation may be useful in Venus's atmosphere with robotic planes or balloons. Venus surface or atmosphere sample return may be an option just as it is on Mars. Remote sensing of Venus could take place from orbit. Solar observations are another possibility. At the risk of straying too far into fiction territory, perhaps an astronaut mission in the upper Venusian atmosphere could even be achieved. Venus may also be a compelling destination given the insight it might give on climate processes.

The Flexible Path already has "off-ramps". Why not include Venus orbit as another potential future "off-ramp" - one that at the moment we don't plan to travel?


Ferris Valyn said...

They actually originally did include Venus - if you go back and watch the Cocoa beach videos, Venus was one of their off-ramps.

However, during the 3rd DC meeting, Dr. Chyba recommended it be taken off, and Dr. Ride agreed with him, as did Augustine. Here is the relevant discussion from the meeting

From the transcript

DR. CHYBA: Ed, I just wanted to note that some of your Flexible Path slides show -- as was the case the last time we saw these in, I think, Cocoa Beach -- show Venus as a possible destination along the Flexible Path, and I wanted to note that, from my point of view, I think that Venus makes very little sense as a destination for human missions and would be a terrible distraction from those destinations that do make sense, mainly Mars and with -- and Moon. So I would recommend that Venus simply be dropped from all of the Deep Space and Flexible Pathscenarios.

MR. AUGUSTINE: Does anybody have a problem with that?

DR. RIDE: Yeah. I agree with that.

MR. AUGUSTINE: I think it's probably a good idea too.

Ray said...

Ferris: You're right, and I actually did catch that meeting. My gut feeling is that Venus orbit does make sense, but at the end of the Flexible Path as an optional destination, some time after achieving Mars orbit. I also think the report should say something about what the Committee members think about Venus orbit on the Flexible Path, even if they don't think it makes much sense, as it's something of an obvious question given the rest of the Flexible Path. Decision-makers using the report may not have seen all of the background meetings.