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NASA Space Science

Send the ISS To the Moon 387

jmichaelg writes "Michael Benson is proposing that NASA send the ISS to the moon instead of leaving it in low earth orbit. (While we're at it, we should re-brand it as the 'International Space Ship.') He points out that it's already designed to be moved periodically to higher orbits so instead of just boosting it a few miles, strap on some ion engines and put it in orbit around the moon instead of the earth. That would provide an initial base for the astronauts going to the moon and give the ISS a purpose other than performing yet more studies on the effect of micro gravity on humans. Benson concludes: 'Let's begin the process of turning the ISS from an Earth-orbiting caterpillar into an interplanetary butterfly.'"
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Send the ISS To the Moon

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  • Problems... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:45PM (#24201803) Homepage Journal

    I like this idea on he face of it, but we are talking about a lot of work. The ISS, as presently configured, is in no way designed to stand on its own without regular re-supply... and we are a very long way from the moon in the sense of the energy it takes to keep punting supplies out to a lunar orbit.

    Right now, in LEO, getting a new toilet up there is still an effort that can take quite a bit of time and co-ordination. Food and other sundries depend upon lifting resources that cannot be generalized into getting a lot further out of our gravity well; we'd need a new generation of lifters to get that done (and, I suspect, more efficient and hopefully at least somewhat less polluting and poisonous propulsion methods.)

    Think over the ISS-related news of the last few years. The oxygen generator failure. The toilet failure. The bad elbow joint on the arm. The computer failures. Solar panel problems. All of these, and more, would have been that much more serious at lunar distances and energy requirements.

    Honestly, I get the very strong impression that the ISS is a piecemeal effort, not up to the quality required to exist at a significant distance from resupply and service; more than once there has been talk of having to abandon it. And that doesn't even factor in the dithering support at the political level — at lunar distances, we're talking huge increases in costs, and that will tend to amplify the politician's waffling in support, if indeed one could gain it in the first place.

    I would much rather see a serious effort put into a large enough work that it would have some chance at self-sustaining operation; a large hollow globe with cultivation, running water, and a manufacturing base. It'd be hugely expensive, but the vast majority of that would come up front, thus reducing the vulnerability to failed re-supply or loss of political support to kill it outright.

    Sadly, I don't see us doing that. We're a lot more likely to commit a trillion dollars or two (of our descendant;s money and interest) to reducing Iran to rubble than we are to seriously attempt to create a viable lunar space station.

    Don't get me wrong, I would love to see us actually get the heck off this planet and start populating the solar system, but the realities aren't just daunting, they're outright Godzilla-like.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:50PM (#24201891) Homepage
    In various science-fiction novels, such as Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars [] , old booster rockets are put up into orbit and linked to form space stations instead of just being throw away. Why has NASA never realized that idea? We'd have all the infrastructure in orbit we wanted, and for a very low cost.
  • by dontPanik ( 1296779 ) <> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:51PM (#24201903)
    And does he have the sufficent knowledge to be making and backing up these crazy suggestions?
  • Not feasible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:51PM (#24201907) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I thought this was a cool proposal until I started thinking about it..., these are the ones that came into my head immediately:

    * The ISS may be designed to be boosted into a higher orbit, but this is not the same as the stresses involved with a Trans-Lunar injection boost. It would have to have the entire structural integrity improved which would be VERY expensive.

    * Yes, solar panels would work at the moon but the whole directional system would have to be redesigned and the number of panels probably increased.

    * The resupply craft are not designed to go to the moon nor is there a booster (currently) available that could take them there. We'd need a whole new booster built to even get them close.

    * Our current proposal is to put a base ON the moon. There's really not much to be gained by creating, or moving, a space station into lunar orbit. You certainly couldn't land the ISS on the moon (well you *could* I guess but it'd take some serious engineering!).

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Apathy ( 584315 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:52PM (#24201919)
    Instead of putting it in to standard orbit around ether the Earth or the moon can we put it into a orbit where it orbits both? That way it could be used as a spaceship traveling between the earth and the moon. It could be refueled and resupplied as it pass around earth. It could then carry passengers to a moonbase or whatever is up there.
  • Re:Problems... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Starglider ( 1326489 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:57PM (#24201999)
    Yeah, my first thought was the astronomical (sorry) amount of fuel that would be required for simple resupplies. The materials, labor, and expense could be mitigated by future implementations of the space elevator (liftport), but it would be an obscenely unnecessary publicity stunt.

    Still, it's more likely that we'll get involved in colonization through efforts like this than gradual implementations of efficient or even practical ideas. NASA has a history of using publicity stunts as budget propellant.
  • by AZScotsman ( 962881 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:58PM (#24202029) Journal
    No need to "orbit" the Moon, stick it out at L1 - the LaGrangian point between the Moon and Earth. Or any of the other points. For the less-than-cosmically-aware []
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:00PM (#24202059) Journal
    The ISS should be left where it is. It should outfitted so that it can serve as a "dry dock" for building the manned Mars mission.
  • by Lord Apathy ( 584315 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:01PM (#24202079)

    One thing that I've wondered is why can't the space shuttles be refit for moon missions? I know they are designed only for low orbit. Put extra fuel tanks in the cargo bay as well as several landers. With extra payload capacity of a shuttle and larger crew several places could be explored on the same mission.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:06PM (#24202205) Homepage

    One top of the problems enumerated by other poster (time to reach the moon, resupply), Mr Benson seems ignorant of the fact that the ISS lacks radiation shielding - like every other craft in LEO it depends on the Earth's magnetic field to shield it from radiation. The radiation level in the belts, let alone that beyond them, would fry the electronics onboard the ISS and far exceed that considered safe for long term occupation.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:09PM (#24202253) Homepage
    He basically says that there is no reason in space to stop.

    That is false.

    It is a VERY different trip out of the deep gravity hole, filled with atmosphere that we call earth than it is within space.

    The best reason to stop in space is to SWITCH crafts.

    Specifically, you need a high G (3 or , aerodynamically sound, craft to get out of the atmosphere.

    Once you get out there, you generally want a low G (actually, One G would be perfect), space ship, and you don't care that much about shape. (radiation becoems important however).

    We generally deal with this now either two ways:

    1. Put a smaller ship inside a throw-away one,

    2. give a high initial thrust, and plan it out so that it goes where we want it to without any additional thrust.

    These ideas are rather primitive, cheap, and silly. A better idea is to launch ship components up to the space station, build them there, then launch the second ship from there. This gets rid of the size constraint of the method 1, and allows powered flight for much quicker delivery, negating the huge disadvantage of method 2. Yes, this will be more expensive, but it lets us do things we could not at all using the current methods.

  • by pintpusher ( 854001 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:21PM (#24202463) Journal
    my vision of this is a space shuttle-like launch vehicle where the entire cargo bay is removable. Leave one up there on every trip. I suppose there might be some aerodynamic issues on the return trip...
  • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Moebius Loop ( 135536 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:24PM (#24202519) Homepage

    If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

    Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time? It seems like that would be cheaper than a vehicle that needed to go that fast all the way to the moon.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:24PM (#24202523) Homepage Journal

    The thing about a moon base, as compared to an orbital lunar station, is that it is of most benefit to the moon, and not anything elsewhere, because in order to supply from there, the vehicle has to go down into the lunar gravity well. This limits resupply to vehicles that are landers, or in other words, not pre-constructed space stations, which would really be a shame -- you'd have to have lifters from the moon's surface bring them anything they needed in ready form; a space station can do the manufacturing from raw materials, which can be mass-driven off the surface without regard for stress or breakage. A space station can also launch various small probes at almost no cost, on almost a continuous basis. Anything from network switches to remote telescopes; we need some kind of base outside of a major gravity well because the advantages such a base offers simply cannot be duplicated down any such well.

    I don't think a lunar space station could exist for long without a moon base; but I think a moon base without a lunar space station is very nearly pointless.

  • De-orbit plan? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by minkie ( 814488 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:30PM (#24202621)
    By the way, what are we going to do with the ISS when we're done with it? That's a lot of hardware up there. Is there a plan to safely de-orbit it without dropping lots of metal on some poor unsuspecting city?
  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:01PM (#24203181) Journal

    I hope the astronauts living there after 2010 appreciate it, because there will be a window there where the US won't have any spacecraft capable of taking people to the ISS. They'll be relying on the russians for transportation.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by credd144az ( 1078167 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:11PM (#24204301)
    And I think your are missing the fact that a large amount of the mass on the container would be transferred to the ISS.

    The hook and line idea would require the two have the two objects connected and rotating around some point on the wire, as an external center of gravity (two masses combined). You would be forced to use centripetal force (Obligatory []) to "slingshot" the ISS back towards the moon.

    Picture two water balloons attached by a string/straw. One empties into the other and as it does, it has less of an effect on the now much more massive other balloon. The result is a big heavy balloon (the ISS), which incidentally is now spinning very fast (around and internal center of gravity), and a negligible mass which, when released, would shoot away from the heavy balloon with little effect on its velocity.

    I could possibly work if identical masses were transferred on and off of the ISS, but I would still imagine that the G's involved in the spinning would exceed the ISS design specifications.

    All this said, kudos on truly thinking out of the box.
  • UPS and FedEx. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikelieman ( 35628 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:45PM (#24204831) Homepage

    Maybe what we really need, is to get the price of shipping stuff to orbit in line with other shipping destinations.

    And the 'killer app' for jumpstarting a heavy-lift industry is Space Based Solar Power...

  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:38PM (#24205601)
    The original idea was to name FORTH "FOURTH" since the designers considered it a "fourth generation" language. However file name length limits reduced this to "FORTH".
  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:45PM (#24205683)

    Do you work for NASA, you seem to have the can't do attitude that is prevalent there since Apollo.

    Considering the ISS cost 100 billion by a conservative estimate your saying the engineering would cost 100 trillion dollars to do this? If you want to make a sound engineering argument you probably should use engineering principles, like not pluck numbers out of your ass and creat an insanely exaggerated argument to try to win your point.

    I didn't really say it was a good idea but, you would have to do a bunch of painful engineering to do it, but I'm not so closed minded as to just write the idea off just because there are a couple daunting problems. Its a lot more useful and fun to think outside the box and see if you could solve the problems than just be a dick and see how negative you can yourself.

    Based on the ISS track record it almost certainly will take NASA more time and money than this country is willing to spend to build a lunar space or ground station of any size at all, from scratch.

    I'm open minded enough to think about an interesting concept instead of just instantly shot it down because its a little off the wall. As much trouble as NASA is having developing a new launch vehicle it would be awesome if you could reuse all that stuff sitting up there mostly going to waste at the moment. Even if you didn't move the whole ISS the Russian core is a pretty good self contained space station if you could use lunar material to shield it.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"