Ron Garan

December 6, 2012

I am NASA astronaut Ron Garan, I want to do an AMA but instead I want to ask you: What do you think NASA should do next? What's should be the next destination for human space exploration?

I will post proof on my facebook Twitter: and G+ pages. I want to discuss with you where the next destination for human space exploration should be


I agree the more people that get to experience space the better off we will all be!

Would it be a good idea to try and set up a permanent base on the moon? If only to prove it's possible before setting out further afield.

I personally think we should establish a permanent outpost on the moon. Here's why:

One of Jupiter's moons!

All but Europa - we're not allowed to go there! - obviously

I can't wait to see man make it to Mars.

Me neither

manned exploration of mars its realistic and a big achievement

I think Mars is an obvious destination - but should it be next?

Mars. Unless I'm missing something.

I think Mars is an obvious destination - but should it be next?

I'd like to see some sort of permanent structure on the moon.

I agree here's why:


I think it's possible to do whatever we set our minds to. We are only limited by our imagination and our will to act

What would be your favorite planet to visit? and Why?

Probably Mars - it's the closest and @SarcasticRover is there

This is off topic, but could you describe what it was like going out on your first spacewalk?

Part of my brain said, "This is an amazingly beautiful experience" - another part said, "Yeah, it's beautiful but it's not real" since on my 1st spacewalk I had no experience base to compare it to, part of me couldn't accept it was real

i read a great article about what it would take for a manned mission to alpha cent. a and b. what are you're thoughts on manned missions to other solar systems?

We need to figure out a way to go much faster

I think we need to focus efforts on developing more practical ways of reaching orbit before we start setting sights on manned missions to mars. We don't even have the funding to return to the moon much less another planet. What do you think about privatization of NASA so that big money investors can become a part of it?

I agree we need to vastly improve our ability to reach Earth orbit. I think commercial space will make great strides and will help provide more cost effective launch capability. We also do not have to launch everything we will need to explore from Earth. There's water on the Moon that can be made into rocket fuel. There's enough to launch 1 space shuttle sized vehicle everyday for decades

With the discoveries of water on Mercury, it would be really interesting to land rovers on it for further analysis. Do you see something like this happening in the near future?

I'm not sure - but I hope so. The more we understand about our own backyard (our solar system) the better off we will all be

I believe we should be sending more money into exploring our universe. It's great that we've now gone to mars, but the universe itself is SO... DAMN... BIG... we ought to know more about it than we currently do. And while I believe the voyager missions, both 1 and 2, will provide indispensable data about our near galactic neighborhood, technology has advanced so much since their departures, I can't help but think what we could accomplish and learn using current tech.

And I want to go into the space industry, so funding would help. Thanks for doing this AMA!

Thanks for the comment and join us - we need all the help we can get

Do you see Asteroid mining becoming a new major industry when its more researched / developed?

I do but I think it's won't be a reality anytime soon - not at least until we can get launch costs down

We need to find Super Saiyans


I think you guys (or someone) should mine the moon. If you tunnel down you'll get ample radiation shielding for free and if you process the raw materials you can build spaceships that can go faster since they won't have to contend with the stronger gravity of Earth or any atmosphere at launch.

If it was designed so that the cities on the moon formed a smiley face or an ejaculating penis when seen from Earth it would be even better.

amen brother (or sister)!

Some more international co-operation. We have so many agencies around the world. I think as soon as we start thinking as ourselves as citizens of Earth and not nations then progress in space will advance much more. Also a manned mission to Mars would be cool, I'd like to see a permanent settlement set up there or the moon like the prototypes drawn up in the 70's.

Agree! - the 15 nations that built and operate the International Space Station are a shinning example of international cooperation. I believe the single most important reason why our planet still faces so many critical problems despite our ample technology and resources is our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale

Perhaps we could land on the sun next?

we would have to go at night though - ba dump dump

I'd like to see more robotic rover missions to other planets (Venus?) and moons.

I hope we will see a more collaborative approach and combine human and robotic missions. There is a great deal of synergy that can be gained by combining human and robotic exploration

I am an engineering student, and my friend and I want to become astronauts. What advice can you give us in the pursuit of this goal? Thanks!

Study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, pick a career you truly love and be the very best you can be at it

Make a colony on the moon

I second that!

what about space elevator? is it just fairy tale?

It is theoretically possible but at present not operationally practical or feasible

Well seems like Mercury is the place to go ... but more studies should be done first. I just want to see us reaching for the stars. We can do it, but we need the right people dreaming big.

We need everyone to dream big and we have to commit to act on those dreams

What was your first thoughts when you experinced weightlessness, and seeing space for the first time?

I felt very grateful for being given that experience and I felt a huge responsibility to share the experience with as many people as I can as best I can

I think we should investigate into HD40307g a bit more (it's a "super earth" go look it up).

not familiar with that one - can you tell me more about it?

Why, in your opinion, should we explore space?

Also, if you were the first man to set foot on another planet, what would your first words be?

We should explore space because if the dinosaurs had a space program they'd still be here I'm not sure what my first words on another planet would be - but I'd probably have a long time on the way to think of something smart and witty

Of course, I would say that we should go back to the moon then to Mars. But I think to do that, we have to get the public informed as to how it could benefit them and excited them about it. How to do that is another issue entirely.

This reddit is one way - you can all help get the word out too

If I'm buying snow tires should I change all 4 or just the front or back 2?

4 wheel drive or 2?

4 wheel

Get all 4 unless you live in Houston


I agree it is critically important to explore Mars. I'm not sure if we should attempt to go there directly or use the Moon as a stepping stone. There are strong arguments both ways. I lean into the go to the Moon first camp but I would say I'm a Moon First Lunatic

Toss up between a moon base, lunar orbit base, and asteroid belt mining facility. Mars is very difficult for now, we can get a better return on next step technology from those other destinations.

get off the fence and make a call!

Big fan of how NASA has been partnering with (Read: Funding) the commercial sector to solve some of the technical challenges of building a genuine commercial industry - The SpaceX and Xcor contracts being shining examples... my question is; what about research grants for startups aimed at building that industry? Even tiny ones for market validation could mean a big deal - as if there's good results, those companies can then raise private investments on the back of data :)

I think it's a great idea but companies have to be beyond the "We have a great idea phase" There are 1000's of great ideas but a great idea without action is empty. I think it's worth looking at those companies that have made an initial investment on a great idea and have some demonstrated success


I agree here's why:

Honestly? The next destination for NASA should be Elementary, Middle, and High-Schools across the country.

I can't imagine that you and your colleagues don't LOVE what you do for a living. If you took some of that passion to the classrooms of soon-to-be voters and got them excited about the possibilities of the space-program you would do more to ensure the future of NASA than anything else I can think of.

P.S. Thank you for what you do - if I could do any one thing in my life it would be travel to Low Earth Orbit.

P.P.S. Please check out ... we will love you to death over there. Mention my name if you want to be a king maker.

The day after the 1st Space Shuttle landed I went to my academic advisor and asked how I can start taking more math and science courses. I completely changed my academic studies. This is an example of how the space program can inspire students to STEM courses and to academic excellence (not that I had academic excellence). Our world (the US in particular) has a huge shortage of students graduating with the technical skills required in a world of rapid technological advancement. The space program is a positive motivator to correct this trend


I agree that exploration of our oceans is also critically important - Unfortunately, we are at great risk of losing the world's only undersea laboratory "Aquarius" due to lack of funding

To be honest, I think NASA is doing fine on the exploration front. If I were to change something, it would be to make the American public aware of all the amazing things that have come out of NASA. I know far too many people who think NASA is a waste of money because they don't produce anything useful (and then they get surprised when I reply that NASA really does make stuff that they use every day).

Any chance of having some kind of PR campaign to get the word out? You guys have the facts behind you; just tell people about them more! I suspect your budget would be slashed less often if people understood that investments in NASA have paid for themselves many times over in the commercial success of stuff they invented.

We have done a horrible (an understatement) job telling the success story of our space program. Since the beginning of social media and platforms like reddit, I have seen a slight positive change in our ability to tell the story. Everyone can help us get the word out. One of the places I use to tell the story is

I want to see NASA play a larger role in solving global warming. If you can't go to space on your own for a while, why not give it a crack?

NASA is playing a big role in combating global warming but there is always room to do more

Back to the moon, get our shit together, go to Mars.

I like it - short and to the point

Facilitate market research grants for the commercial space industry :)

(The premise being, if we REALLY want to get private investors interested in space ad a viable option, we need numbers to prove there's a real market there.)

The market will be there if we can get the cost of launching something into orbit down - this requires significant technical innovation. I believe we are at the point where we have learned enough about what it takes to operate in low Earth orbit where commercial entities are ideally suited to make those technical innovations

Faster and more efficient ways of travel, so we CAN have the ability for human space exploration.

Also, Cryogenic Freezing.

There's no doubt we need better propulsion systems to enable us to get to places faster - I'm not a big fan of cryogenic freezing however

Has there been any discussion about a manned mission to an asteroid? I think that would be awesome.

Yes there has been a great deal of discussion about a manned mission to an asteroid - One interesting scenario has us bring the asteroid to us (or near us) The trick is making sure we don't inadvertently slam it into the Earth - not good

I'd love to see something start here on Earth. How about more funding for you guys and NASA!

Thank you!

I think ultimately regular people should be able to go to space if they don't have 20 million dollars

I couldn't agree more - I truly believe the more people who have an opportunity to see our beautiful planet from space, the better off we will all be

Alpha Centauri. Lets get a look at that earth like planet.

We may have to take some intermediate steps first

I heard something about a real-life Star Trek ship being blue-printed, to be built soon. If true, how would it be possible to lift such a behemoth into space?

Not with present techonlogy

Space communities! Free of pollution, weather, and the whole anti aging thing is something my wife would go for

I don't know anyone who is a fan of aging

I would say nuke the ice caps on Mars and start terraforming that sucker right now. Then I would make a giant reflector space umbrella and do the same to Venus.

Are you in favor of space nukes for terraforming planets?

Hold on there partner - let's not get ahead of ourselves We won't be nuking anything

How's space?

cold (unless it's hot) - it's cold in the shade and hot in the sun

Meth lab in space

probably not a good idea

I'd like to see NASA start to very seriously collaborate with the space agencies of other nations, particularly wrt to Building New Things.

I think international collaboration is the best way to get budgetary, resourcing and ideological constraints which are hampering humanity's getting off this damn rock.

Which means we should get there faster, and I can stop quoting Dr Farnsworth regularly :)

Agree! - the 15 nations that built and operate the International Space Station are a shinning example of international cooperation. I believe the single most important reason why our planet still faces so many critical problems despite our ample technology and resources is our inability to effectively collaborate on a global scale

Let's explore Titan.

OK but why Titan before anything else?

We need a ship that will support long term habitation in space. I don't think we'll see faster than light travel before our planet becomes too crowded or messed up to sustain us all. We're already searching for other worlds that support life, but I have a feeling we're going to need a ship that can sustain a decent sized population for several generations if humanity is ever going to get there.

Have you seen Wall-E?

What's it like way up in space? What are the best memories you have had?

My best memories are simply looking back at our beautiful planet. Since I was up there for 6 months, I was able to watch the seasons change from space. It really appeared as if we are all riding through the universe together on a living breathing organism

Pick a near-Earth asteroid like Nereus or Cruithne. Have an astronaut (carefully) walk around the entire object, publicize "first astronauts to circumnavigate another world on foot"

Maybe we could hold an "Ironman" competition

I think that the next step NASA should take is to send people to the moon again, and see if it could possibly be suitable for humans to live under certain conditions, then as time goes on we'll go from there.

no argument there!

Send robots to other parts of the solar system. The USSR sent craft to Venus, let's get better images and data with modern technology. It would be interesting to see many of the planets and moons up close.

We do have a pretty robust robotic exploration program. In my opinion, we should expand our robotic missions and also look for way to collaborate between robotic and human exploration. By doing that we would enable great synergies

I think NASA should build a real life Death Star, basically an artificial moon/space station but with weapons that could blast any asteroids that get a little too close to Earth.

Also it needs to have all exhaust ports covered, you know... just in case.

Only problem is when you blast an asteroid you really only multiply the number of places on the Earth that are going to get hit - there are much better ways to deal with asteroids The B612 foundation is working on some of those

Did you ever meet a Santa Claus in your journeys?

I have never been in space during Christmas time

In Harry Turtledove's WorldWar series, Americans built mining/construction bases near the asteroid belt. There, they mined and processed the water, metals, etc. in order to build spacecraft right there in space. I think this would be a huge step in reducing the cost of space exploration.

As long as you could keep the other asteroids form smacking into you

I think NASA should unveil all of the UFO documents that they have. It will keep us humans busy for years.

Also, do you believe in aliens/extraterrestrials?

I've never seen any aliens but that's because they're very very small

I wish Nasa could grant me the ability to not be horrible at math so I could graduate with a degree worthy of working at Nasa. >_<

The space program could use all kinds of help - not all of it requires being great at math

I think humans have gone as far as they should. Robotic exploration is the most cost effective and safest. Maybe when we have better propulsion and a star trek like replicater.

I think there are great possible synergies by combining robotic and human exploration

how long do you think it will be until space travel becomes affordable to most everyone?

Excellent question - I wish I knew - I think it's possible in our lifetimes

What's the big secret that will be revealed soon? I'm impatient.

I don't know and I'm not even sure there is a big secret

I desperately want the warp drive research to be fruitful. What's the general feeling around NASA - pipe dream, or within our lifetime?

I think the first step is to get beyond chemical propulsion - I think that will be a reality within the next decade. Warp drive is another story - can't answer that one

Shouldn't you focus on getting funding from the government?

I mean... as it stands now, you have no way of even getting into orbit on your own (which sucks).

That's actually up to the public to ask

1: If you guys are taking names, I will HAPPILY be the first man to die on Mars. If I understand this correctly, the radiation should kill me within a couple of months (if several years on board a ship doesn't already destroy human bone density and make me a straw-man).

2: OCEANS! We have mapped out something like 3% of Earth's oceans! Who knows what sort of cool biological breakthroughs will result from discovery of life that HAS NOT BEEN AFFECTED BY THE SUN FOR HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF YEARS!

3: Lightsabers.

  1. Be careful what you ask for
  2. I agree it's critically important to explore our oceans. Unfortunately we may lose funding for the world's only undersea laboratory "Aquarius"
  3. Uh OK?

I think the question should be where shouldn't we go...

Awesome response!

I would like NASA to build the hover board from Back to the Future even if it is pink.

It would be easier to build one to work on the Moon


I think a closed life support system is a requirement for exploration beyond the Earth-Moon proximity

I'd like to see more exciting moon exploration.

Me too!

I think NASA should also focus on a new PR campaign to revitalize and encourage the public to support funding for space exploration. Some people need to realize how important NASA has been to furthering technology in our world. It's so much more than pure exploration. Just because we have been to the moon [example] doesn't mean we have nothing to gain from establishing infrastructure there. The technological, medical, and even economical benefits to the future of humans is immeasurable. Everyone should be stoked on this!!!

I think we need people with your insights to help us get the word out. Help us get everyone excited about our space programs and help us explain why space exploration and research being conducted onboard the ISS is so critically important to the future of all of humanity

Ramp up marketing of astronaut ice cream.

We actually don't eat that in space - there I said it!

I'd like for NASA to send a robot to Europa - melt through the frozen surface and send in a mini sub. Talk about a challenge! Also, potential for life there. Practice in Vostok lake in Antarctica.

Its inevitable that humans go to Mars. Too big of a PR boost not to.

I wonder if NASA/private industry could determine if mining the asteroid belt is feasible.

I thought in 2001 Space Odyssey we were told specifically not to go to Europa. Do I have that wrong?


I think it's critically important to explore both space and our oceans

NASA's outward vision for more exploration is something everyone wants - but one thing that I really appreciate, and that I hope NASA keeps doing, is pushing science education. As a high school senior in the US, I've seen countless incompetent or uninterested science teachers in multiple states and school districts. We need to provide a path for students who want to learn, especially with more emphasis on theoretical physics, astronomy, and cosmology.

NASA is pushing science education. Do you have any suggestions on how we can do a better job?

snoop lion started a new trend. Now people doing AMA's are asking redditors questions.

Oh man - I thought I was being a trend setter

Well, we Mars now, so a semi-permanent moon base could be a good stepping stone for long-term off world colonies to be established.

I agree but instead of semi-permanent I like a permanent one. One that would be a hub of a space transportation system

Loved you at OYW. Just wanted to say thanks for your time!

I had a wonderful time at OYW After meeting everyone there I'm filled with optimism for our future

How far into space can NASA currently, reasonably, go? How long till astronaut's will be able to go to Mars?

The only limits that we have are the ones we place on ourselves. Before I can answer how long before we will have humans on Mars, we need to make a commitment to go there and allocate resources to the mission. If we did that sufficiently it actually could be done fairly quickly

would it not be feasible to put a large object in such an orbit that it would move a certain distance away every year... then dangle some kind of rope to the surface of earth and offset that movement with weight from cargo/building materials/ people climbing up the rope thing?

this space elevator thing keeps me up at night

A space elevator is theoretically possible but at present it's not feasible

Human colonization of a planet in another solar system. I know it's a long term goal but hey, no stupid answers and all that right?

That's not a stupid question at all. I think it's a proven fact that single planet species do not survive. Just ask a dinosaur!

Next time you have a space-rated vessel, name THAT one Enterprise. NASA kinda had a false start and we really lost out on the PR value.


Do you think there is any chance that we will ever move earth's entire population to another planet?

Are you asking about both volunteers and non-volunteers?

I think the biggest thing that would help the world unify and become one nation would be a joint venture to colonize the moon. By doing so, we have the ability create and cheaply launch space crafts on the moon. The next step would be Mars but without a base on the moon, I think this is much more difficult.

Appreciate what you do.

I couldn't agree with you more! - Thanks

This may be unrelalistic but since finding a planet with oxygen close by is unlikely, i think terraforming should be researched more rapidley. Some way thats practical in time.

There's oxygen (and water) on the Moon - that's pretty close

I think firing a nuke at the moon would be a good idea. Oh and the warp drive that's also a good idea.

Like the warp drive idea - not thrilled with the nuking the Moon one. You may want to rethink that

analysis of any and all materials within our grasp in space, in search of manipulable energy

Agree - at some point in our future our very survival will depend on our ability to use the limitless resources available in space

I think NASA should do more search for intelligent life. I think it was Stephen Hawkings who said it's very plausible for there to be alien bodies floating around :)

Problem is if intelligent life is out there, they are probably very far away

Ron, I was just having a discussion about this with some of the computer science faculty. As we burn through Moore's Law's usefulness, we seem to be hitting walls to improvements. We may not be able to get our processors much smaller than they already are, and power consumption rates are quickly getting to be bottlenecks as well. Right now we're in a phase of being able to expand our computing capabilities by exploiting parallelism...But we may well get to a point where that possibility is exhausted too. Eventually, we're going to need a major shift in our computing technology if we want to continue to make things faster.

So one of the things that we were discussing is using superconducting materials, which have zero electrical resistance, and could be used to make extremely fast computers. The problem, of course, is that the highest temperature superconductors we've been able to make so far need to be at about 100 K, and it's very energy-expensive to keep things at that temperature when it's 300 K on the outside of the computer.

So, we were thinking that one of the things we may end up having to do is to put our computers into space, where cryogenic temperatures are more or less absolutely FREE. Heck, the JWST is going to be at about 40 K, and just cool radiatively. So we can build a computer with superconducting materials, put it at the L5 point, and handle data transfer with a laser.

What do you think? I didn't think I'd have a chance to ask an astronaut about this anytime soon...although I'm hoping to be a coworker of yours when I graduate. :)

Great discussion - I think you know a great deal more about the topic than I do but it seems very plausible. As long as you keep things out of the Sun. Problem is you get into all kinds of other thermal challenges when you operate in a vacuum

Moon/Mars base + life searching probe to Titan

Sounds good to me

I think terraforming Mars would be amazing.

Yes it would

Build a mass accelerator to establish some real infrastructure in orbit first, then moon base and asteroids!

Tell me more - plz

I'd like to see NASA turn into a more international organisation.
And to be more open on their projects so that they can use crowd sourcing as a means of research, testing and contribution.
Humans need to work together if we are going to get of this rock to explorer outside of our solar system.
Time to forget about country lines and work as earthlings.
NASA is too closed and elitist. If you don't do this someone else will.
Now that we have the internet and technology at our disposal there are many many garage inventors and innovators, it is waste for NASA to do their research behind closed doors only to come up with the same result and product some garage inventor had already done years before.

I'm sure I don't speak for myself here, WE want to be part of the system to help us explore this universe.

Couldn't agree with you more that more of NASA's data should be available to the public. But I'll take it a step further not only should it be available, it should be in a form that the public can easily use. This is why I joined NASA's Open Innovation team Our goal is to make NASA more open, transparent and collaborative. We have done events like the International Space Apps Challenge (and have another one coming up in April) and support Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) and the Launch Forums my personal favorite though is Unity Node


Got a flag?

For human exploration I'd say Mars, but some kind of permanent station on the Moon is also necessary. I think a Moon colony should be more of a refueling/supply station to support the people on Earth, in addition to acting as a "pit stop" to Mars.

The Moon is very important to space exploration, but Mars seems to be more viable for supporting an actual colony. I'll admit I'm practically clueless on the topic of space colonization, but to me the fact that Mars has some kind of atmosphere makes it somewhat more viable to colonization than the moon.

Looking beyond places with the thought of colonization in mind, I'd say that asteroids are among the next places we should start exploring. As I'm sure you know, asteroids are thought to be loaded with precious metals. This wealth of materials will be a huge help later in the future with more and more things requiring precious metals such as platinum, gold, nickel, and cobalt. This, I hope, may also help take some pressure off of strip mining on Earth. And just as is the case with Moon mining, asteroid mining has the potential to bolster commercial enterprises and provide raw materials for future stations.

P.S. Thanks for including the article about why we should return to the Moon.

I think you should run for Congress


Which planets? Any in particular?

I would like to see a portable manufacturing rig put up in orbit, maybe a piece at a time like a space station, and then capture one of those asteroids we hear about in the news that come dangerously close. Use a small group of robotic ships to land on the asteroid, then nudge it's speed and trajectory so that we catch it in orbit, then use the rig in space to extract, refine ore to build ships that can go back and forth between the earth, moon, mars, and the asteroid belt. Basically lay the foundation for an interplanetary infrastructure for transportation and commerce so we can expand, then we can really crank things up.

Actually that is a plan that's being discussed. A great org that's looking at these types of scenarios (besides NASA) is B612

What about terra-forming a planet like mars?

Theoretically possible but presently not feasible with current technology (unless you're willing to wait a really really long time)

intergalactic travel to new planets colonization terraforming

Do you think we should take some intermediate steps first?

I want another Voyager-esque program!

Do you have a destination in mind outside the solar system?

Find some way to encourage space travel. The fact that we haven't returned to the moon since Apollo makes me feel pretty sad. There's a whole goddamn universe out there and we have barely even tasted it. Spreading out is beneficial for humanity as a species.

Makes me sad too! Let's fix that

Mars/Moon colonies for when we inevitably fuck up our planet.

I think we should explore space while at the same time explore ways to protect what we have (our fragile oasis)

The Moon, yes, but L5 also.

What about L's 1-4?

A large space port, to accomidate future civilian space turists.

Agree but it will be more than space tourists I think we'll also have space citizens


Larger permanent structures in LEO with steady shuttle-esque services. This will likely be taken over by private companies.

The Moon to restablish dominance and possibly establish a small base there nothing to fancy for now.

Manned mission to mars as soon as possible. Yes curiosity is cool and landing an SUV is amazing but to create excitement for the space program we need to have humans exploring. This should last for a few months at least. By this time there should be an ISS type base on the moon

Send a mission to an asteroid if possible for mainly shits and giggles.

Several probes that land to Venus, Europa and Titian. to find out what is going on there if anything. Mars is cool but we have explored the shit out of it by the time a manned mission and another curiosity esque rover lands there.

another objective is find a way to go faster and get ready for really long term missions (like several years) to the other part of the system or another system entirely.

I have some general time frames: in a decade be back on the moon and in two be ready to send a man to mars or have the mission in transit.

Sounds great - I especially like the "nothing fancy for now" comment about our small Moon base

I see China making it to Mars. Maybe Elan Musk will back up his talk and make it out there in the next 20-30 years through a commercial operation. Or, maybe Robert Zubrin/Mars Society and other groups form a coalition to hire out Space-X to realize the Mars dream.

One thing I don't see is NASA going anywhere. I interned at Kennedy Space Center in 2006, and I remember thinking how incredibly depressing it was to see the great vision the people in the 50s had when they planned the facility. Then fast forward to 2006, and KSC was sorely under-utilized. Today, even more so with the loss of a civilian manned space program.

So, here's where I THINK NASA should be going: Space Exploration. Anywhere. Any form. Drop all the climate science and take a laser focus on space exploration. Let some other government agency or university consortium pick up all the bloated non-space exploration related science that NASA is currently mired down in.

As for where I think NASA will actually go? Into the history books of irrelevance at the rate it is currently going.

Ouch that hurts - but you're right we should be doing much more. But I do think we are on a good path for the future. It's not great that at present NASA does not have its own capability to launch humans into space. We're working on that. We're also working on larger rockets that can take us beyond Earth orbit and the spacecraft that will go on those rockets that can return to Earth at speeds beyond what we see returning from low Earth orbit. All of us are disappointed that these things are not coming on line faster but I believe we will get there as fast as NASA's funding will permit


This is where you think we should all focus our space program on?

i know we are currently working on better engines, once me achieve that, (which could be very very soon based on predictions) I'd love to see one of those earth-like planets they've been finding!

Me too

More research for finding life/fossils on other planets.

Which is it? Life or Fossils?

It seems the major problem, access to space, is being addressed by companies like ULA, Orbital and SpaceX. The next problem, in my opinion is, how do we conduct business once in space?

I'd like to see a network of "Space Tugs" that can transport people, equipment and raw materials throughout the solar system. I believe this would be the infrastructure required to support future exploration missions such as moon bases, moon-based space elevators, asteroid mining, manned mars missions, mars terraforming via additional mass and water from asteroids, transport of manufactured goods between colonies, and returning samples to earth. This could also be a great way to use technology that would be taboo in constant earth orbit, such as space-based reactors.

Such capabilites are expensive if done with chemical rockets. Inflatable habitats from Bigelow, a high density power source and Vasimir engines could make this an efficient mover that never leaves space and is more reusable than the shuttle. It could be used to service satellites without costing a billion dollars a mission.

I think this is vital infrastructure that NASA should consider building, so that entrepeneurs can focus on what nobody has even considered of yet. In this way, NASA would fill the same role that the Advanced Research Projects Agency did when they funded the internet.

I think it could truly change how we interact with our solar system.

I agree Just as our expenditures in the intercontinental railroad and interstate highway system have improved quality of life and had a tremendous ROI, I think that if we invest in the infrastructure of a space transportation system (starting with an Earth-Moon transportation system) those investments will be paid back in ways that are presently unimaginable

First, I'd like to say I admire what you do and have done so since I was a kid, it's just down right awesome. I'm one of those people that looks lost when they step outside of their house since they're staring up to see how the stars and all that jazz looks today. I'd like to see the implementation and continuing effort to remove space trash/junk.

That's a big problem and I personally have not heard any feasible ideas about how to reduce space junk. Anyone out there hear of anything that makes sense?

Titan and Europa. Unmanned sub-ice mission.

Very compelling!

NASA needs to do some Prometheus type stuff.

Huh? I saw the movie - not sure we want to go there!


Are you saying that you think the Moon landing was faked? You haven't fallen for this supposed secret meeting to plan the fake landing have you?

I don't have a destination, and I don't know much about exploration or telescopes, but I would think if the technology is better I would like an upgrade to the Hubble scope.

Since we retired the Space Shuttle, we no longer have the capability to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope but we are planning to launch new telescopes like the "James Webb"

The oceans. For god sake we haven't still explored all of this huge bodies of water. Explore the goddamned oceans.

I agree that it's critically important to explore our oceans too. I am very disappointed that we may lose the world's only undersea laboratory "Aquarius" due to lack of funding

Build a Death Star, or build a warp capable engine, so we can join the United Federation of Planets.

Are those requirements for acceptance into the Federation?

With the overall nasa budget I think more money should be put into science, but for the next destination for human exploration I think it is unnecessarily dangerous to send a person to Mars right now so I guess the moon would be the only place to go to. I think there should be no rush to get back to the moon though. So pretty much I do not think that human space exploration should be a priority right now.

Science is important but so is the science being conducted by humans on board the International Space Station 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Continuously, for the past 12 years, science has been and is being conducted onboard that simply cannot be done anywhere on Earth. The unique microgravity environment of the ISS cannot be duplicated on Earth This research is not only enabling us to go further in the exploration of the solar system it is improving life on Earth. While I was on the ISS I put together a video highlighting a small part of that research:

If we don't get off this planet, our species will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Barring the existence of some magical afterlife, if something shitty happens to this planet before we figure out how to get off of it, everything that anyone has ever done will be pointless. Life is meaningful because it has a context. We know this planet will become uninhabitable, so, for our context to continue, we have to get the hell off this rock before something bad happens to it.

We should be looking at this problem like the US was looking at Japan when they bombed Pearl Harbor - like we're being attacked. It's humans versus nature. We need to proliferate before we're wiped out.

Anyway, I wish everyone thought like that. We need so much more funding and so many more resources devoted to NASA and agencies like it.

EDIT: IDK where we should go next, but whatever we do, it should be with the end-goal of permanently colonizing other planets and finding inhabitable planets for us to move to.

I said it before and I'll say it again, If the dinosaurs had a space program they'd still be here

I think we should finally land on the Sun.. stop procrastinating NASA, just do it already

I think we should down vote anyone who says, "Yeah but we'll need to land during the night"

Long-term moon outpost to test for feasibility of a self-sustaining human presence.

Perhaps in or near an area with ice deposits.

Solar collector in the sun, habitation infrastructure beneath the surface, areas in permanent shadow (where the ice is) would also be excellent for all manner of astronomical science, shaded from the sun's light and the Earth's radio emissions.

Nice shallow gravity well, too.

Yeah, let's take a shot at seeing if we can maintain an indefinite, self-sustaining presence on the moon.

If we can do it there, then we can do it elsewhere, I'd recon.

Sounds great to me!

Why not beef up the radiation shielding on the ISS and turn it into an interplanetary spacecraft?

The ISS was not really designed for that type of mission. If we are going to leave low Earth orbit and explore the solar system, we will need very rugged systems that do not require allot of maintenance or resupply and we will need to design closed life support systems. The ISS works very well for what it was designed for (an Earth orbiting research facility)

Do you believe that Nasa would be able to provide a new method of education? It seems like it is a bit too forgiving and outdated. Creating a much more standardized approach in teaching children math and science. Seems to me that current methods are highly ineffective.

No doubt that the education system needs an overhaul - I think NASA role in that should be to continue to inspire the next generation of explorers, engineers and scientists

[No question]

I'm going to call it a night - I will pick back up as soon as I can and address as many comments as I can. Thanks for all the great comments. I think this is a very important discussion and I'd like to keep it going if you're game

Talking about destinations assumes a mission orientation, and I think this is the wrong approach. Instead, I think NASA should think in terms of high leverage technologies and capabilities. Forgive my language, but designing new missions with the same crappy technology will not get you far in a limited budget environment. These two areas are the ones I think are most important:


Chemical rockets reached their technical limits 50 years ago when the first Centaur LOX/LH2 engine was developed. Later cryogenic engines have not improved significantly because there is no more energy in the fuel to use. At best you can get marginal improvements. The only way to get radical improvements is to stop using chemical rockets as the main method to travel in space. I will mention a few candidates, but the main point is move away from a technology that has reached a dead end.

One candidate is to use air-breathing engines up to around Mach 5. There are various engine cycles that could be used, but the important thing is by using oxygen from outside the vehicle, you can get about three times the fuel energy/kilogram as with LOX/LH2. Above Mach 5 the increased drag and heating makes it better to use rockets, so air-breathing propulsion is mainly useful for a first stage.

Another candidate is electric propulsion. Ion and plasma thrusters already have demonstrated 6-10 times the exhaust velocity of cryogenic engines, and solar panels to power them have doubled in efficiency in the last decade. They should receive a lot more attention than they are.

The Supply Chain

Bringing everything from Earth is ultimately too expensive and unsustainable. We should put a lot more emphasis on extracting resources wherever we are, establishing a production base, and making products like structural elements, fuel, food, and other things you need for long term operations. Modern computers and networking makes it possible to do a lot of the work by remote control. So we can put the robots to work preparing for when the humans arrive, and to assist us once we get there.

Some of this technology is getting worked on, but far too little effort is going into it, and I have not seen a real integrated systems approach to the supply problem. For example, if you extract fuel for a plasma thruster from asteroid materials, and use part of that fuel to bring back the next load of raw rock, it becomes self-sustaining. But you don't discover that synergy if you look at materials processing and propulsion in isolation. You need to look at them as an integrated process where each supports the other.

-- Sincerely,

Dani Eder

Formerly with Boeing's Space Systems Division, now writing a book on space systems engineering and doing conceptual design of future projects

[EDIT] For those who asked Mr. Garan to reply, he did, here, but it's kinda lost in the thousands of other comments:

Dani, I do not disagree with anything you've said here. Great insights! I'm looking forward to reading your book, ron

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Ron Garan conducted on Reddit on 2012-12-06. The Reddit AMA can be found here.