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Moon Space Science

NASA's New Mission to the Moon 283

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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  • 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 AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:21PM (#18100360) Homepage
    I wonder if a roll of duct tape might be prudent as well.

    Absolutely. Duct tape was essential to saving Apollo 13, when they had to rig an adapter for the square CM lithium hydroxide canisters to the circular LM canister ports. (CM and LM were built by different contractors, each with their own design for lithium hydroxide (part of the CO2 scrubbing system) canisters.)

    Also comes in handy for keeping stuff from drifting around if there's no Velcro handy. Standard equipment on every Shuttle mission.

  • 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-Entry 'skipping' (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.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.
  • Re:Yikes. (Score:3, Informative)

    by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:58PM (#18100828) Homepage Journal
    So Orion will grow boobs and beat up its girlfriend?

    and we'll all laugh about its shrunken rocket.
  • Re:Sextant? (Score:3, Informative)

    by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:59PM (#18100848)
    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.
  • NASA's mandate (Score:3, Informative)

    by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:09PM (#18100998)

    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, and conduct or arrange for the conduct of such measurements and observations;
    (3) provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof;
    (4) seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space; and
    (5) encourage and provide for Federal Government use of commercially provided space services and hardware, consistent with the requirements of the Federal Government.

    Plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities is rather open to interpretation, but exploration has always been considered an element of this. Actually, this does not counter your research point, because research involves both exploration and the development of necessary infrastructure (such as a moon base) to support it. I could detail some of the 100+ research proposals NASA has for the moon, but I'll leave it for another post

    Number 3 and 4 are very relevant to your post, and also very clearly supported in the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which guides much of the current development work. NASA is very open to cooperating with other friendly nations and private industry to use the systems they're developing to land additional payloads on the moon.

    As far as how a permanent stay would pan out, since the article doesn't detail it, the Constellation program would conduct a handfull of missions up to two weeks in length to points of interest. One of these will likely be an already identified crater rim near one of the poles that receives almost constant sunlight. The constant sunlight simplifies many things.

    NASA would then conduct several follow up missions to the same site, each one bringing more equipment. The proposed design for the lander makes the return stage as small as possible, which maximizes the amount of hardware left behind. Being modular, the lander could also fly missions to land several tons of cargo without a crew, such as prefabricated laboratories.

    After 4 or 5 missions to the same location, there would be sufficient resources on the surface to support a permanent crew. From there NASA could conduct research that may really jumpstart commerical development, such as in situ resource utilization and low gravity excavation and health effects.

  • by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:54PM (#18101682)
    Do some research first. 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. There have been plenty of articles debunking this.

    How about spending the money learning about earth and settling the Climate change debate rather than wasting trillions of dollars over a pipe dream.
  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:54PM (#18101684) Homepage
    Plenty of folks with a decent background say that there is much to be gained by making the moon an intermediate step.

    And there are plenty who don't. For example, this fellow [thespacereview.com] feels that "Currently, this author believes that there are few, if any, efficient reasons to use the Moon as a stepping stone for going to Mars", since "Mars is a planet with an atmosphere and resources that preclude the Moon from acting as a relevant analogue, and our current space program is quite adept at operating spacecraft in the vacuum of space for timespans that double the most modest estimate of the one-way transit time to Mars."

    Perhaps you have some material which counters these points in some meaningful way, rather than simply appealing to authority?

    Secondly, you're a Canadian, so I do not see why it concerns you.

    Because, like it or not, the United States is our best hope for getting humanity into space. So I'd rather they didn't waste 20 years putting a man back on the moon when it is, IMHO, and the opinion of many others, a waste of time, energy, and resources.
  • 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.
  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @07:23PM (#18102738)

    Actually yes it is. The moon is far closer to Mars then the earth is.

    Either that's very subtle sarcasm you've got there... or you and others reading this aren't keeping track of 3 facts:

    1. The moon is about 384,500 km from Earth.
    2. Mars is about 55,000,000 km from Earth - at its closest.
    3. Most importantly, the moon goes around the Earth all the time.

    So... there are times where the moon is 384,500 km closer to Mars than the Earth is.
    And there are times where the moon is 384,500 km further than Mars is.
    And at best, that's six thousandths of the total straight-line distance to Mars.

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