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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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  • by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:57PM (#18100018) Homepage
    Yes.
  • 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:Race is over (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:10PM (#18100208)
    Wow, you know that sounds familiar [wikipedia.org]. I wonder if it would work.
  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:11PM (#18100226) Journal
    What for? Surely this is just another presidential exercise in sticking it to the Commies?

    True, but there are other benefits. Learning how to colonize space would be a biggie in my book. Besides, if we can't go to the moon, we don't stand a chance at going to Mars, Europa, Titan, or possibly beyond our solar system. The moon is the first step.

  • Re:Good question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Paulrothrock (685079) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:13PM (#18100244) Homepage Journal

    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?

  • 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.

  • Not Necessarily (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ricree (969643) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:27PM (#18100428)

    We need to start someplace, sometime. Why not do it now? There is no advantage in waiting...the advantage in starting it now is that it will be done sooner.
    Not necessarily. If we wait a few decades, we may very well be significantly more advanced in the technological prerequisites necessary for this sort of mission. For example, imagine if we had tried to do the Appolo missions during the 20's. I'm not saying that this is necessarily the case. I honestly don't know enough about the technology involved to really chime in on whether or not this is true. I just want to point out that it isn't necessarily true that starting another trip to the moon right now will necessarily be the best thing we could do to work towards long term space expansion.
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:28PM (#18100450) Homepage
    LOL, I love how a contentless post like this gets modded up insightful. Insightful how? You haven't listed any good reasons why returning to the moon is worth it. You haven't even provided references to books, websites, or other resources which cover the topic.

    Frankly, it sounds to me like just another round of pork from a President and party that has been damaged by the Iraq war. After all, much of the Republican base is located in states with NASA facilities (California and Maryland excepted).

    Besides, the plan is so long-term that I'll be very surprised if it survives the next three Presidential terms.
  • by mdm-adph (1030332) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (hpdamdm)> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:28PM (#18100454) Homepage
    ...though, methinks that this whole "return to the moon" wouldn't even have been brought up had the Chinese not boasted about what they hope to accomplish.
  • Honest question (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jdcool88 (954991) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:41PM (#18100610)
    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 ArsonSmith (13997) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:44PM (#18100646) Journal
    so give it to people who are willing to work for it rather than some crappy rat hole like welfare. I'd much rather support engineers than drug addicts. With the best answer to me being "Don't fucking take my money in the first place!!!"
  • 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]
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:07PM (#18100962) Homepage
    The moon is the first step.

    Why? Colonizing the moon is a drastically different undertaking from colonizing Mars. The moon is essentially a vacuum. It's cold. It has no useful resources to speak of (and no, He3 won't be useful any time soon). 1/6th Earth's gravity. And it's fairly close.

    Meanwhile, Mars has water. And abundance of minerals. A thin atmosphere containing useful gases. A surface temperature that actually breaks the freezing point occasionally. Double the gravity of the moon. And it's so far away that getting there has proved to be a surprisingly difficult undertaking.

    Honestly, the idea that colonization of the Moon will tell use anything useful about colonizing Mars is, frankly, silly. The methods that would be used for the two projects are *completely* different. Meanwhile, we can't even build a self-contained biosphere on *Earth*! Maybe we should try tackling that drastically simpler task before we start planning Moon bases.
  • by lhbtubajon (469284) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:08PM (#18100976)
    In that case, I hope the Chinese boast more often about big, hairy, audacious space goals.
  • by maggard (5579) <michael@michaelmaggard.com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:23PM (#18101208) Homepage Journal

    Yes, there's the lifeboat argument.

    Even under the most dire/optimistic scenarios a lunar facility isn't gonna be much of a viable 'lifeboat' for generations yet. Indeed if things go seriously awry it's probably the most untenable place to be for any calamity except a fast-acting/highly-virulent/fatal terrestrial biohazard, and then you'd likely just get to live somewhat longer and die a premature death of a different cause. After a terrestrial catastrophe a lunar facility likely won't contribute much to future generations but an interesting monument. Rather a planet of 6 billion with a huge biosphere has so much more in the way of odd nooks & corners for refugees & resources.

    There's doing research and rehearsals for manned exploration further out. I certainly wouldn't want to venture to Mars or the asteroids without technology tested a little closer to home first.

    Except a lunar facility is going to be markedly different then anything space-based. Significant gravity, a surface, 2 week bright/dark cycles, huge dust & debris issues; except for lack of atmosphere they're almost entirely different problem sets. A space station is certainly the better R&D environment for spacefaring development. As to Martian R&D Earth as good, and substantially cheaper/more-amenable venue then the moon offers.

    Raw materials -- He3 (as fusion fuel) is one possibility. As a source for raw materials (silicon, aluminum, etc) for building solar powersats is another.

    Except that asteroids are probably a far better materials supply source and can be got roboticly, with their materials easier separated, refined, and then sent on to Earth in space then from the moon. Furthermore while He3 is promising we've yet to achieve fusion that could take advantage of it and those power sats would probably do as good a job with less complexity then a lunar-fueled terrestrial fusion system anyhow.

    >Astronomical research -- lunar farside is the best place in the solar system for radio telescopes, it's shielded from Earth's noise. It's also a pretty good place for telescopes at all other wavelengths, especially if there's a manned base to swap out instruments, repair cameras, etc.

    Except any manned base is going to be fouling up the local environment and require far more support then just installing spares & alternatives for everything. Again, the moon is good, space is likely better.

    A frontier. People need one, even if only a few actually pioneer it. Earth will go crazy even faster without one.

    Because the moon is the only possible frontier? Not our oceans, deserts, mountain ranges, arctic & antarctic regions? Not more abstract frontiers like science, technology, sociology, psychology, diplomacy, etc.?

    I'm honestly not trying to be contrarian but your reasons strike me more as rationalizations. Nearly all could be done better/cheaper using unmanned systems or directly in space. I'd hate to see a lunar base become another dead end like our hopelesly compromised space station, doing expensive science of minimal import or quality.

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw&yahoo,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.
  • by Lord Ender (156273) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:29PM (#18101276) Homepage

    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.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:41PM (#18101484) Homepage Journal
    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 one wants to do it. Governments don't want to pay for it and we don't have the attention span for it. In fact I'd put money on the complete elimination of manned spaceflight by the year 2015. We will have officially spent enough money to piss everyone off by that time.

    Phase 2 is the complete elimination of all space science, in space, by 2020. Expect that orbital telescopes, research satellites etc will all be defunded by then. Unless there is a commercial or military purpose for space science, it will be killed.

    It was a pretty good run but now it's over. I grew up pouring over every detail, every photograph, every newscast, every lay science paper for everything associated with the Gemini and Apollo programs. I had a family member who worked in both programs. It was magic.

    But by the time Skylab was discontinued it was clear that NASA was looking to get into the commercial heavy lifting business, ergo Space Shuttle. But NASA didn't bank on the expense and complexity of Space Shuttle, nor did they anticipate smaller payloads becoming the norm. So the Air Force became NASA's only paying customer. They're the only people who have a need for the capacity of Space Shuttle. So NASA is just treading water until Space Shuttle and ISS are killed off. They hope to have another heavy lifter online by then but if they don't then that's that. End of story. We'll be able to go the ESA or India, Japan, Russia or China for launch capability by then and NASA will have ceased to have a purpose.
  • Re:Race is over (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:43PM (#18101512)
    Considering the INCREDIBLY hostile environments of EVERY SINGLE PLANET in our solar system, I'd say it would be about 1,000 times easier to recover from even the most disastrous of environment catastrophes hear on earth than to try to colonize another planet. Why travel a ridiculous distance to terraform much colder planet like Mars when we could much more easily re-terraform the earth?

    -Eric

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:48PM (#18101582) Homepage Journal
    Why? Colonizing the moon is a drastically different undertaking from colonizing Mars. The moon is essentially a vacuum. It's cold. It has no useful resources to speak of (and no, He3 won't be useful any time soon). 1/6th Earth's gravity. And it's fairly close.

    Well, let's see. 1/6th gravity might be nice for some things. It does equate to 1/6th the difficulty in managing heavy objects. Vacuum is, amazingly enough, common for many likely working environments in space. We need practice; better to do it around a developed moonbase with medical facilities, manufacturing and so on than around some asteroid that has a lot of something we want, plus vacuum. It's not necessarily "cold", by the way, it is in vacuum, which is something else entirely. There is plenty of energy falling on its surface from which heat can be gathered. And power. In any case, it isn't like you're going to lie on the surface naked. Another thing is it is closer than anything else, and once we have a base there, going other places is a lot less costly -- launching from a 1/6th gravity well is much less costly than launching from a 1G gravity well. Not just into space in general, but to Mars, to Earth orbit, moon orbit, everywhere. There have been many suggestions about how to mine the moon's resources and get worthwhile products from them. Once there and we get a little practice, I have little doubt there would be more of the same. If materials can be obtained to build spacecraft, for instance, then we're WAY better off with a moonbase. It's a great place for telescopes, too. And RF research. And vacations (I'd love to have a 1/6th G environment to practice martial arts in, or to have sex in, or even to just turn backflips in.) As for creating a self-contained biosphere, you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:07PM (#18101846) Homepage Journal
    The moon is out of the way of mars. it would take more fuel to travel to the moon then from the moon to mars as opposed to to making a straight shot to mars.

    I don't know where you got your information, but the moon has - at some point in it's orbit - the same relative velocity as the earth with regard to mars. This is unavoidable, as the moon orbits the earth, if you'll recall. Launching at the appropriate time will ensure no loss with regard to the moon's orbit. However, with 1/6th the gravity well, the same amount of energy will result in a higher velocity, or less energy the same, with regard to a trip to mars from there as compared to the earth. It's just math. And of course, there is no air resistance, no weather, and little air traffic to contend with.

    How about spending the money learning about earth and settling the Climate change debate rather than wasting trillions of dollars over a pipe dream.

    How about not making the terrifically dim assumption that we can only do one of those at a time? Do you fall over when you chew gum? Sheesh.

  • by AJWM (19027) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:13PM (#18101946) Homepage
    Even under the most dire/optimistic scenarios a lunar facility isn't gonna be much of a viable 'lifeboat' for generations yet.

    All the more reason to get started sooner rather than later, then, eh? "Okay everyone, lifeboat drill in 2025!"

    Except a lunar facility is going to be markedly different then anything space-based. Significant gravity, a surface, 2 week bright/dark cycles, huge dust & debris issues; except for lack of atmosphere they're almost entirely different problem sets. A space station is certainly the better R&D environment for spacefaring development.

    Right. We wouldn't go anywhere in space where there's gravity, surfaces, or dust and debris, or extremes of bright or dark. Hello? Asteroids? Mercury? Mars? The outer moons?

    And while you mentioned vacuum, you left out radiation (space station orbits below the Van Allen belts), and resupply issues (space station can be abandoned on short notice if necessary).

    As to Martian R&D Earth as good, and substantially cheaper/more-amenable venue then the moon offers.

    Looks like you've drunk Zubrin and the Mars mafia's koolade. Camping out in the Utah desert or the Canadian arctic tells you zero about living on Mars, no matter what Zubrin and his space campers say. Hey, I've been to the Space Camp in Huntsville. Sure, it was fun, but it taught me as much about flying in Shuttle as camping on Earth tells you about Mars. Low gravity, almost no atmosphere and what there is is toxic, radiation, 20 minutes (at best) ping times, temperatures cold enough to freeze CO2, a year to resupply or evacuate, and a year in zero gee just to get there, etc, etc.

    Because the moon is the only possible frontier? I said "A frontier". It happens to be the closest where there's any "there" there.

    Not our oceans, deserts, mountain ranges, arctic & antarctic regions?

    Perhaps you don't understand the definition of "frontier"? People already live all of those places, and routinely exploit them. Any tourist willing with a few tens of thousands to spend, tops, can go visit without being particularly uncomfortable, and return home with photos and souvenirs. True frontiers are not for tourists, they're for pioneers. You know, the guys (and gals) who find new and unusual ways to die.

    As for "abstract frontiers", well, pffft. Any society -- hell, any organism -- that embraces internal frontiers while ignoring external ones is already doomed.
  • by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:23PM (#18102064) Homepage
    I don't know where you got your information, but the moon has - at some point in it's orbit - the same relative velocity as the earth with regard to mars. This is unavoidable, as the moon orbits the earth, if you'll recall. Launching at the appropriate time will ensure no loss with regard to the moon's orbit. However, with 1/6th the gravity well, the same amount of energy will result in a higher velocity, or less energy the same, with regard to a trip to mars from there as compared to the earth. It's just math. And of course, there is no air resistance, no weather, and little air traffic to contend with.

    Okay, perhaps I'm missing something, but in order to launch from the Moon to Mars, you need to get fuel to the Moon first. You can't make fuel on the Moon, after all. There's nothing to make it from. So you have to lift it out of Earth's gravity well. So, let's say you do that. So you burn a bunch of fuel to get a bunch more fuel out of Earth's gravity well and deposit it on the moon. Then, you launch from the Moon, burning yet more fuel to climb out of the Moon's gravity well, and a bunch more to make the shot to Mars.

    So, tell me... where is the savings, here?
  • by OctaviusIII (969957) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:32PM (#18102162) Homepage
    I'd mod you up, but I can't, so instead I'll just argue the opposite.

    Let's assume that all the money in the OECD spent by space agencies gets pumped into working on the aid shortfall, assuming the 0.7% GDP goal is the proper goal. That's about a $24 billion drop in a $50 billion bucket. The rest could be made up by a goodly chunk of Microsoft profit money, leaving them $10 billion. However, this is only assuming that the 0.7% is the only goal. There's also the problems of health care (that leftover $10 billion could give the 45 million uninsured Americans about $218 per year). Afterwards comes education, housing, and the impoverished in the OECD that would be overlooked by our 0.7%.

    So the $24 billion would be a step in the right direction, but you forget what we buy with that money: a look over the next hill. The Chinese explored for a bit, arriving as far afield as East Africa and beginning colonies around their area of the world. They nearly dominated the East. After 30 years of this, they turned inwards and burned their fleets trying to achieved Confucian inner perfection. That insular behavior undid the progess achieved under their age of exploration. The Chinese never achieved the perfection they sought. In contrast, Europe achieved the wealth and power it sought, whether for good or ill, and now it and its transplant nations (the rest of the OECD) are the most prosperous in the world.

    The $24 billion we spend wouldn't eliminate poverty if spent on poverty, but it may if it's spent on reaching upward and outward.
  • Re:Sextant? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @06:49PM (#18102316)
    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.
  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @07:01PM (#18102466)

    Most of Africa would kill to get what the poor in the US have.

    The only people starving in the US are nuts (anorexics, bulimics, crazy street people that won't take help).

    We spend millions per year on free health care for fat 'poor' people. There are no fat poor people (truly poor).

  • by jpop32 (596022) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @07:02PM (#18102478)
    Something is seriously wrong with this situation.

    Yup. The Taleban/Al Qaida don't have a space program.
  • by macndub (1033708) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @07:32PM (#18102844)
    The difference is a question of what people will spend money on. If you're using the coercive power of government taxation, you'd better have a better reason than, "It's cool." The moon shot consumed 2.5% of the United States' 1969 GDP. Say $250 billion in today's equivalent money. Get that through Congress, if you are serious. No money, no moon and no Mars.
  • by Original Replica (908688) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @08:08PM (#18103216) Journal
    You are, of course, correct in that little distance is gained if the moon was to be used as a waystation to Mars. I had read the gp to mean that the moon is closer environmentally to Mars. It is a better place to R&D the technologies we would want to take with us to Mars. Whatever habitat module, vehicle, and local resource extraction NASA comes up with for Mars, should be tested on the moon first.

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