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Moon Space Science

NASA's New Mission to the Moon 283

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the to-the-moon-alice dept.
mattnyc99 writes "Popular Mechanics has a new, in-depth preview of NASA's Orion spacecraft, tracking the complex challenges facing the engineers of the CEV (which NASA chief Michael Griffin called 'Apollo on steroids') as America shifts its focus away from the Space Shuttle and back toward returning to the moon by 2020. After yesterday's long op-ed in the New York Times concerning NASA's about-face, Popular Mechanic's interview with Buzz Aldrin and podcast with Transterrestrial.com's Rand Simberg raise perhaps the most pressing questions here: Is it worth going back to the lunar surface? And will we actually stay there?"
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NASA's New Mission to the Moon

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  • Good question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ZonkerWilliam (953437) * on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:59PM (#18100030) Journal
    Will we go back to stay? not if it's for science only, IMHO it will take private companies to make space travel, including exploting the moon for it's resources, to make this 'permanent'. NASA has no where in it's mandate to do anything except research.
    • Re:Good question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#18100098) Homepage

      NASA has no where in it's mandate to do anything except research.

      NASA's mandate, overt or not, is also to help the Department of Defense fulfill its goals in space.

    • Re:Good question (Score:5, Informative)

      by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:04PM (#18100114) Homepage
      True enough, but there's plenty of research to do on the lunar surface.

      Some directly related to habitation of the Moon and exploration of Mars -- long duration life support, techniques for harvesting lunar resources, etc, -- and some of the more "pure research" category. Lunar farside is probably one of the most radio-quiet places in the solar system, with 2000 miles of rock shielding it from Earth, so it'd be great for radiotelescopes, for example.

      Also a good place for doing large scale experiments that might have, uh, adverse environmental impact if something goes wrong.
      • by zyl0x (987342)
        I wouldn't exactly imply that the Moon would be safer for certain experiments. The last thing we would want to do, would be to alter it in any way. Tidal forces are very important to our planet's ecosystems. Also, the Moon may not be as "structurally sound" as the Earth. We don't know nearly as much about it as we do the Earth. It would be a bad idea to make those kinds of assumptions.
        • Re:Good question (Score:5, Interesting)

          by PieSquared (867490) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <6002selecsosi>> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:57PM (#18100814)
          OK, so we shouldn't be testing things that could end up with a grey goo on the moon any more then on earth. We shouldn't try to build a bomb that could crack a world. But it really takes an effort to destroy a big rock in space in any meaningful way. What about experiments with bacteria and viruses that could (if we mess up *and* they escape) could kill everyone, or fusion power or exotic elements and crap like that? What if you wanted to use a virus to kill cancer but you weren't sure if it could easily mutate and kill regular cells as well. A nice place like the moon could prevent accidental genocide while you did some long term tests.

          The nice thing about the moon is that if accidentally release a huge cloud of radiation we just get a green moon instead of a black moon when it isn't lit by the sun, whereas on earth we would have hundreds of miles of radioactive wasteland that could otherwise be a nice place to live. I mean it would still kinda suck long term if we teraformed the moon (in the long term), but it would still not be nearly as bad as on earth.
          • by Chmcginn (201645)

            OK, so we shouldn't be testing things that could end up with a grey goo on the moon any more then on earth.
            Actually, that might very well be the best place for them. By dint of their size, nanobots would be nearly impossible to make resistant to ionizing radiation - any that escaped from the lab wouldn't survive on the surface of the moon as soon as the sun rose.
      • Outside of obvious military motives, there is no worthwhile reason to go back to the moon in this way. think about it.

        2020: robotics will be much further along. Probes and robots are better and cheaper than humans and the case only gets stronger with time.

        BioSphere: a failed project in habitation. More work along these lines would be a better use of money. The low gravity issues can largely be tested remotely if need be. Building a spinning space module for the space station for testing moon gravity would
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Paulrothrock (685079)

      The government pays pioneers to open up frontiers that are then exploited by commercial entities. It's been this way for thousands of years. Why should it change now?

    • NASA's mandate (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 (795185)

      NASA has no where in it's mandate to do anything except research.

      I would say that NASA's mandate, as a government agency, is whatever the people democratically choose for it to do. More tangibly, the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 [nasa.gov], which founded NASA, declares:

      (1) plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;
      (2) arrange for participation by the scientific community in planning scientific measurements and observations to be made through use of aeronautical and space vehicles, a

  • Yes! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LatexBendyMan (989778) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:01PM (#18100062)
    If we went back to the moon, I assume NASA's plan to would be to discover water so eventually the moon could be a docking station for trips to mars!
  • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:02PM (#18100082) Homepage
    Is it worth going back to the lunar surface?

    What do you mean "going back"? That assumes we were there a first time.
  • by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow.wrought@gmai l . com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:03PM (#18100092) Homepage Journal
    The initial estimates are that this time around the mission is going to be far less expensive. One NASA official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "CGI has really matured to a point where shooting a return to the moon is now viable. Instead of a sandy soundstage we'll simply have our guys in front of a greenscreen. In fact, some of the more optimistic estimates posit that by 2020 we won't even need live bodies in the studio."
    • by kabocox (199019)
      The initial estimates are that this time around the mission is going to be far less expensive. One NASA official, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "CGI has really matured to a point where shooting a return to the moon is now viable. Instead of a sandy soundstage we'll simply have our guys in front of a greenscreen. In fact, some of the more optimistic estimates posit that by 2020 we won't even need live bodies in the studio."

      Just grab the guys that film the Star Trek TV shows, B5, the Star Wars movies,
  • Yikes. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:17PM (#18100294) Homepage Journal

    the CEV (which NASA chief Michael Griffin called 'Apollo on steroids')
    So Orion will grow boobs and beat up its girlfriend?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dr_dank (472072)
      So Orion will grow boobs and beat up its girlfriend?

      and we'll all laugh about its shrunken rocket.
  • by jpellino (202698) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:19PM (#18100332)
    As the folks at Goddard expained it during the Moon Math student competition, "When you go camping, isn't it a good idea to try setting up the campsite in your backyard first, 600 inches away, so you can try out everything, or run back in the house if you forgot your flashlight, make sure you remember to bring everything, and *THEN* go camping for real to somewhere 600 miles away?"

    That's a largely non-obvious reason for using the same basic vehicle for both mission sets.

  • by heroine (1220) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:20PM (#18100342) Homepage
    Funny how after 30 years of listening to people say "when will we go back and who will that be?" now people are saying "Is it worth going back to the lunar surface?" How did this reversal of thinking happen?

    We have a lot more information than the last 3 moon attempts. Time was the only answer you could know about right and wrong was what you could think of on your own based on what you saw in the sky and how much spare cash you had.

    Now the answers for everything are downloadable. You don't need to come up with your own answers because the internet has the answers for you. The change in where our information comes from has changed our opinions.

    • Now the answers for everything are downloadable. You don't need to come up with your own answers because the internet has the answers for you. The change in where our information comes from has changed our opinions.

      The problem is someone has to put those answers on the internet in the first place. Information doesn't magically appear on the internet, the grunt work still has to be done. Hopefully people would realize that...
      • by compro01 (777531)
        the grunt work still has to be done.

        which is has, repeatedly and thoroughly, thus the results are now so common and well-agreed upon that they're easily available on the Internet.
  • by jbeaupre (752124) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:20PM (#18100344)
    "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and leaving him safely there."
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by JazzLad (935151)
      Safely or no, what kind of country are we that we can't even send our president to the moon?
  • The original capsule was remarkably resilient and well-protected. I'm glad to see they're reusing the design and not trying for something brand new. If Burt Rutan wants to have new systems, he can finance them himself.

    • by 0racle (667029)
      Well, except for a fire and an explosion related to a design flaw that was in every command module from Apollo 1-13, I guess it was ok.
  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:31PM (#18100498) Homepage
    I agree completely with Prof. Hawking--We need to establish life outside of Earth.

    Deep space scientific observation is nice, but until we have a self-sustaining colony off of earth, manned space technology should be our #1 priority.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KKlaus (1012919)
      Why not focus on robotic colonization instead? It's not like we'll be able to create colonies that would be useful without earth for many decades, so why not focus on building self sustaining colonies that _dont'_ contain people. In my mind it's breaking down a very hard problem into smaller, more managable ones. There aren't any compelling reasons (or at least few) to try and build a moonbase AND try and make it self-sustaining AND try and make it inhabitable all at once. We've seen the obvious benefit
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Ask Professor Hawking is he's willing to pay for it, then. Because, at least here in the U.S., many of us taxpayers are sick of footing the bill for these baby boomer fantasies while adding to an already out-of-control national debt.

      -Eric

      • It probably won't change your mind, but I thought it would be useful to throw out a few numbers:
        NASA budget [wikipedia.org]: $16.8 billion (2007)
        US Military budget [wikipedia.org]: $532.8 billion (2007)
        I'll admit that the numbers were actually closer than I expected. OTOH, when it comes to the military, there's the budget and then there's what's actually spent. (Yes, this can be true with NASA, too, but to a much smaller extent.)
    • by AlXtreme (223728)

      manned space technology should be our #1 priority.

      Is space technology more important than feeding the poor? Curing cancer and AIDS? Switching to renewable energy sources? World-fracking-peace?


      Lets first get our stuff together on this rock before we go out and spread the blessings of humanity to other rocks. Who knows, we might even become worth saving.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lord Ender (156273)

        Is space technology more important than feeding the poor? Curing cancer and AIDS? Switching to renewable energy sources? World-fracking-peace?

        Yes, yes, and yes. The problems you mention have no chance of destroying all life in the universe (to our knowledge). Keeping all life on one planet does have that chance.

        Life itself is more important that starving orphans. There, I said it.
  • Price Tags (Score:3, Interesting)

    by truckaxle (883149) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:35PM (#18100534) Homepage
    FTFA

    it's hard to see the pitfalls so far ahead, but I worry that once we establish a base on the moon, we might get bogged down there.

    I thought for the moment there, is he was talking back some foolhardy contemporary military adventure.

    I wonder what he meant by this, how could we get "bogged" down on the moon?

    Aside: Anybody know what the ROM price tag for an established moon based is compared to say the price tag for the Iraqi war?

  • Saturn V... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by creimer (824291) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:36PM (#18100542) Homepage
    There's an interesting article [nytimes.com] on what the space program could've look like if the Saturn V rocket program wasn't cancelled. The new program will be just a shadow in comparison.
  • Sextant? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Flying pig (925874) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:36PM (#18100548)
    Can somebody better acquainted with the mechanics of sending a vehicle to the Moon and back please explain why Buzz Aldrin recommends taking a sextant? Or does the tried and tested technology to be used this time involve lashing the Captain to the aerial to take the latitude while the crew pile on the solar sails?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531)
      near-worse-case backup, i would imagine.

      in the event that the navigation computers fail or you lose power or something, you could presumablely use the sextant, a chronometer (a common wristwatch is likely accurate enough), known astronomical constants, proper charts and a bit of math to figure out where you are and how to get where you're going.

      or maybe i'm thinking too much and it's just for good luck or something.
    • Hey captain do we have a sextant on this tub?
      Yes, but she's ah, occupied at the moment.
    • Re:Sextant? (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:06PM (#18101836)
      "Can somebody better acquainted with the mechanics of sending a vehicle to the Moon and back please explain why Buzz Aldrin recommends taking a sextant?"

      Because Aldrin previously demonstrated that you could maneuver in orbit using a sextant if your computer failed? On one Gemini flight he used the sextant to perform the rendevouz rather than the computer and radar, if I remember correctly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188)
      Sextant? For the same reason I would want to take one with me on a sailing trip to Hawaii. Yes I have a GPS and a backup GPS on my boat. I also know some one who had two GPS units fail while en route across the Pacific. Had to fall back on dead reconing (using the knot log, clock and compass)

      If the on-board computer smokes you would need the sextent to measure your orientation.
  • Re-Entry 'skipping' (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@nosPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:41PM (#18100604) Homepage
    From TFA:

    "A skip re-entry is riskier," Lockheed's Johns concedes. "The Apollo traditionalists worry about it." The Russians performed a couple of successful skip re-entries with their unmanned Zond moon probes in the late 1960s, however.

     
    They also had a couple of failures - and the failures/sucesses were dotted pretty evenly across the attempts. Zond was a percursor to a Soviet attempt to perform an Apollo 8 flyby to steal NASA's thunder - in fact, it was the Zond tests that lead to Apollo 8 being a lunar mission rather than a high earth orbit mission so as to steal the Russians thunder!
     
    Before the budget cuts of 65/66 and the Fire, NASA planned on as many as *6* manned flights in LEO and an indeterminate number of lunar flights before committing to a landing attempt. Those budget cuts, the time lost after the fire, and the growing realization that the Soviets might be able to trump them forced their hand.
     
    So much for the myth of Apollo-era NASA being the brave and bold agency they are so often portrayed as of late. Until forced, they were just as conservative as they are today.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      Those budget cuts, the time lost after the fire, and the growing realization that the Soviets might be able to trump them forced their hand.
      So much for the myth of Apollo-era NASA being the brave and bold agency they are so often portrayed as of late. Until forced, they were just as conservative as they are today.

      What you described sounds more like political pressure for NASA to trump the Russians.

      Without such external pressures, people tend to be very conservative when lives are on the line.

  • Honest question (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jdcool88 (954991)
    Would it be worthwhile to launch space missions from a lunar base? It would seem to me that because of the lower gravity you would need less power to reach escape velocity - or am I incorrect in this? That could be one potential bonus of going back to the moon.
  • by J05H (5625) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:49PM (#18100726) Homepage
    The Moon is like Iceland - easier to get to from Europe but there's not much there besides scenery. The Mars system (Mars, Phobos, Deimos) are New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. I guess this makes Mars-Earth L1 the Hudson River?

    The resources to build an entire civilization exist on/around Mars. The moon is a fossil world.

    We can learn some from Luna, and probably take the first steps to colonization there, but the real action is going to be on Mars. There is a lot of planet-specific engineering that needs to be done for either location. Lunar spacesuits won't work on Mars, there will be huge differences in sealing technology and energy generation (you can burn silane as internal combustion on Mars, for instance). We can learn as much in high orbit or at a NEO about colonizing Mars as we can on the Moon. Almost all technical development for any near-term colonization is going to be developed on Earth, though.

    If I had several Billion $$ right now, I'd commision a Russian-Bigelow spacecraft for a human mission to Phobos or Deimos. This is the ideal target for early development, energetically close to Earth, resource rich and within telepresence range of Mars. We can mine water and ship it back to LEO using technology we have now, or nearly. Russian companies have decades worth of human habitat experience, Bigelow would provide the main living space, custom tools purchased from best providers. The project would mine water and provide realtime control for robots throughout cis-Mars.

  • L5 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by derniers (792431) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:53PM (#18100790)
    building a colony at a Lagrangian point makes a lot more sense than going to the moon especially as a way station to Mars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by carambola5 (456983)
      There are a lot of very good reasons why missions back to the moon are a better idea than just going to the Lagrangian point.

      First, and most importantly, it provides a (relatively) close-by testing ground for requisite technologies. Many tasks that people take for granted are completely untested in such exotic environments as the moon and mars. In-situ resource utilization, for example, requires mining and processing operations which have no terrestrial equivalent. The problems present in off-earth mining a
  • by Boron55 (1060136) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:58PM (#18100830)
    This could be considered slightly offtopic, but I would add one more benefit of NASA Moon mission: the resurrection of public interest in space science (in general) and Space Science Fiction (in particular). Did you notice that during recent decades the theme of science fiction shifted significantly from space exploration plots to fantasy and alternative history? As a big fan of space science fiction, I feel my favourite trend is neglected. The reason is obvious - the whole space research both in USA and Russia/Europe fell into stagnation and public interest was lost. Remember how excited the science fiction writers were about space technology back in 60s? They were expecting humans to fly around solar system by 2000 and to distant stars in the beginning of this new century. Where are their hopes? Ruined. Now I really hope NASA mission will bring back the long-forgotten public excitement about space exploration, and the science fiction will once again picture the starships instead of dragons and elves. I hope.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Control Group (105494) *
      In no particular order:

      David Feintuch (the Hope series),
      David Weber (Honor Harrington),
      Alastair Reynolds (the Revelation Space universe),
      Stephen R. Donaldson (the Gap series),
      Robert L. Forward (various),
      Vernor Vinge,
      Walter Jon Williams (Dread Empire's Fall trilogy)

      Are all (relatively) recent authors you should check out if you haven't. It's not a scratch on the golden age of SF, of course, but there are still decent space SF books being written. I've also heard good things about Iain M. Banks and Peter F. H
  • We were supposed have moonbase Alpha on the moon BEFORE 1999 so that the moon could get ripped out of Earth's orbit. It's too late now.
  • When I was a kid in Jr. High School..... 1978, NASA claimed they'd launch a Mars mission by 2013. Instead
    they built a shuttle and sunk all sorts of money into OLD technology. Let face it, they didn't innovate. I would have loved to
    see a spacecraft that took off like a jet. So imagine, instead of a rocket liftoff you take off like a jet, accelerate into space.
    Instead it's a gliding brick that' soon to be retired. Now a manned Moon mission is deemed a worthy trip again? If we were to
    tunnel into the moon
  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:28PM (#18101270) Journal
    The idea of landing a man on the moon was initial conceived in 1960. Kennedy made his famous speech in 1961. By 1969, NASA had launched and recovered Apollo 11.

    Flash forward to 2007. Presumably, we know how to get to the moon, since we've done it before. Computing and aerospace technology have both advanced considerably in the intervening 46 years. But now, instead of getting there in less than 10 years, they want to take 13?

    Something is seriously wrong with this situation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jpop32 (596022)
      Something is seriously wrong with this situation.

      Yup. The Taleban/Al Qaida don't have a space program.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Charcharodon (611187)
      There is a big difference between just going to the moon, looking around and heading back home and going there and setting up shop. It sounds like they are planning on running five upwards of these ships at once. It would make things alot safer and more practical sending them in groups. Launch the first couple with no crews, just supplies and equipment then send the others one at a time up with crews so that they can have a constant supply of people working and still have a ship left over as a backup. M
  • NASA is talking about going to the moon in order to open up funding streams for all of the precursor projects which will then be used for some other purpose, ostensibly a revenue generating one. Sorry to crush your moon rocks but we are not going to back to the moon this century. If anyone gets there before the year 2100 it will be India or China, if only to say YAAAAY FOR US !!!!

    But manned spaceflight out of the orbit of the earth is in fact dead and over, forever, or if not, for the next 100+ years. No on

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