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Dr. Robert (Bob) Zubrin, Tuesday, 2-21-12 February 22, 2012

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Dr. Robert (Bob) Zubrin, Tuesday, 2-21-12


Guest:  Dr. Robert (Bob) Zubrin. Topics:  NASA, the Mars Program, Dr. Zubrin’s new book, “Merchants of Despair.” You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright.   Some important websites applicable to this program are as follows:  Dr. Zubrin’s recent article in the National Review Online, www.nationalreview.com/articles/291099/obama-wrecks-mars-program-robert-zubrin.  Dr. Zubrin’s new book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists,  Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism:

www.amazon.com/Merchants-Despair-Environmentalists-Pseudo-Scientists-Antihumanism/dp/1594034761/ref=onegiantlea20.  Please remember that if you buy the book from Amazon using this link, Amazon will contribute part of the purchase price to OGLF/The Space Show.  During our hour long first segment, Dr. Zubrin talked about the NASA part of the President’s Proposed FY 13 budget for NASA.  He  referred to his National Review Online article in addition to providing us with financial and economic analysis, the importance of the Mars program, and the consequences of cancelling it and other proposed uses of NASA funding that do not accomplish much. This is a comprehensive and hard hitting discussion which addresses how to make our space program, NASA, private space, and Mars more relevant to the nation.  He also explains why it is so important to see humans as creators, not destroyers, and to see space as a significant and important path forward for us all.  He fielded many listener emails and caller questions on lots of subjects, including prizes and a  recent MSN poll regarding those wanting to go to the Moon, Mars, or stay at home.

During the second segment which was close to 90 minutes, Dr. Zubrin continued discussing the FY 13 budget and its consequences for NASA and the country, but he also talked about his new book in detail, even linking it to the space program. Many issues came up as Bob’s book uses history and scientific arguments to refute the claims of those movements and efforts to limit growth, space development, distort science for a political agenda, and more.  These issues take up most of the discussion, along with listener questions on both NASA and Mars along with the book topics he laid out for us.  For example, questions about the use of the nuclear rocket came up.  Limiting resources and commercial growth came up as opposed to expanding resources and robustly developing space by both NASA and the private sector were extensively discussed.  Listeners asked many questions about Space X and rocket alternatives to SLS and the issue of global warming.  Bob told us stories from the book going back in history to  the days of Rev. Thomas Malthus and his population theories as written during the period of 1798 to 1826 through to modern times with the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, and Dr. Holdren. He used the banning of DDT as one example given in his new book.  Bob’s closing comments addressed the crisis in our space program and the choice we have to make regarding a devastating vision for our future or a creative and positive future vision that includes space. His final comments were about the 15th Annual Mars Society Conference which will be inPasadena,CA in early August this year, set to coincide with the likely timing of the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars.

Please post your comments/questions regarding this program on the Space Show blog URL above.


1. Robert Clark - March 1, 2012

Thanks for the informative interview with Dr. Zubrin.
I like his proposal for using the Falcon Heavy to get low cost Mars missions. He suggested using three copies of the FH. Interestingly, it might be doable using a single Falcon Heavy, IF you fully use Zubrin’s idea of getting propellant from the destination site.
This may have been a complicated process when it had to taken from the air. But recent results show there is abundant water/ice near surface even at middle latitudes on Mars. Electrolyzing water to separate it into hydrogen and oxygen is a simple experiment that you see even in children’s toys now. And recent NASA experiments show you can make cryocoolers at light weight that can liquefy the H2 and O2.

Bob Clark

2. Richard Thieltges - February 23, 2012

I used to be a big fan of the Mars mission and the Mars Society.

I say “used to” because I no longer think maned Mars missions and large scale planetary exploration make sense right now. We are obviously in an era in which we have to establish priorities. I think the obvious priority for our space program is to pivot to a new mission, one that society as a whole can get behind. I think that mission is to issue a challenge to NASA and the rest of the space community, to, within the next 10 years, develop and demonstrate the capacity to shift a civilization-destroying sized asteroid in its orbit, sufficient to miss a possible earth intersection

The impact of a civilization-destroying asteroid on the Earth is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Simply look at the moon, and its record of numerous and overlapping impact craters. The earth has just as many.

A focused, intense and world-wide effort to develop this capacity would be the impetus for a new surge of enthusiasm for space technology, much as Kennedy’s call for going to the moon. Only this time, it would be in the service of something that everyone would see to be in their own personal self interest. If a large asteroid were to impact Earth, none of the Mars missions would save us or could ever be developed. Mars will not be a creditable self-sufficient refuge for human life for at least a half century.

We certainly could involve private enterprise thorough prizes and other means to get the cost down.

A ten year hiatus in planetary exploration would do little to set back the long term agenda for space exploration, in fact, the capabilities developed for the earth asteroid protection technology would be highly useful in carrying out that agenda. It would keep the space teams together, and develop capacities for robotic and even manned solar system exploration. As a side benefit, think of the private enterprise space mining spin offs.

It is going to be a loosing battle to get the broad public interested in Mars exploration. It will be a much better sell to get people to see that asteroid technology is where their self interest lies. If this is not done, the space program will lag, and we will have to wait until the next major asteroid impact occurs to galvanize public opinion. Let us all hope it is not the big one.

3. Anthony - February 23, 2012

This was a superb discussion! It’s certainly going to be interesting in what the future holds for space infrastructure.


4. James A. Dewar - February 22, 2012


I was unable to hear the interview live, but just listened to it. As you are busy your society and most recent book, you perhaps have not had time to read my second book, The Nuclear Rocket, in which I argue for breaking the ban on using it to go to and from LEO.

Let me summarize it. Start with a small engine, Pewee size, with a cargo plane/solid booster launch sequence. This eliminates all fixed launches from the US or any of its island territories either as a first stage or as an upper stage. The cargo plane (C5A) would fly to an isolated area in the Pacific, drop the stage at 40-50k feet at which several solid boosters would take the stage to 100-150k. This would take a minute or so to allow the nuclear engine to come to full power then it would fire taking the payload to LEO. This is above the atmosphere so any fission products would disperse into a very wide area. To prevent or mitigate accidents, the engine would be encased in a cocoon like a nuclear weapon on an ICBM is encased in a RV to withstand the rigors of reentry. These are quite rugged and there is no reason to believe an equally rugged one could not be developed for a nuclear engine. The engine would remain in orbit for several months to cool down, then reenter and splash down or land on a US controlled island also in the Pacific. The military would pick it up, return it for disassembly. The core would be removed and reprocessed while the non-nuclear components rebuilt/recertified/replaced as appropriate and a new core inserted and the “new” engine reused. Appendix C of The Nuclear Rocket analyzes this launch sequence in greater detail. I see no show-stoppers here.

I hold this launch sequence can drop the payload costs to $100 per pound. Even this is not fixed, as the humble solid core has great growth potential; to open the listeners eyes I projected 10 successive generations of nuclear engines, each with better and better payload fractions. That paper is attached to my blog if you care to read it. So even $100/pound isn’t fixed but at $100/pound you have a paradigm shift in the space program. I hold it opens up space to the common man and he will create many new industries to make money off it. Moreover, this paper illustrates how money can be made from a nuclear engine program totally separate from launches. This could be an extremely big pot of money.

If this is so, and I believe it is, you have totally new justifications for a nuclear rocket program – money/profit, high paying jobs, new industries and new tax bases – and those are things Washington well understands. So I don’t view the fear of a “radioactive engine” as being a show stopper. Money still talks.

I would welcome an opportunity to debate/discuss this with you on The Space Show. I’m sure Dave’s listeners would appreciate it also.

I will be out of the country until May so maybe we could schedule something then.

Best wishes,

Jim Dewar

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