Tag: constellation program

Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon

Moon nearside



Excerpt from spacenews.com


Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.  What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).  What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?  If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.

Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA


A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.  Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?  The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. 

When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap. NASA's ConstellationNASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA  The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth. 

Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.  The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. 

Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.  Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.  

If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.  Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.  

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.
What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).
What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?
If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.
Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA
A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.
Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?
The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap.
NASA's Constellation
NASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA
The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth.
Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.
The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.
Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.
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If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.
Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
- See more at: http://spacenews.com/op-ed-why-the-u-s-gave-up-on-the-moon/#sthash.czfTscvg.dpuf

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Mars Capsule Test Heralds New Space Age With Musk Alongside NASA




Excerpt from
bloomberg.com

The U.S. is preparing to launch the first craft developed to fly humans to Mars, presaging a second space age -- this one fueled by billionaires like Elon Musk rather than a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. 

An unmanned version of the Orion spaceship built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) is scheduled for liftoff tomorrow to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers), the farthest from Earth by a vehicle designed for people since the Apollo program was scrapped in 1972. 

Entrepreneurs such as Musk and longtime contractors like Lockheed are helping shape the technology needed to find other homes for humanity in the solar system with an eye to one day commercializing their work. 

“These are really exciting times for space exploration and for our nation as we begin to return to the ability to fly humans to space,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “What Orion is about is going further into space than humans have ever gone before.”
Photographer: Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Delta IV rocket, the Orion capsule will test the riskiest systems needed to carry astronauts far beyond the moon, although its first flight will cover only about 2 percent of the 238,900-mile distance to the lunar surface.

Speed Limit

After orbiting earth twice, Orion will accelerate to 20,000 miles per hour during descent, mimicking the speeds of a craft returning from a mission to deep space. The capsule is supposed to make a parachute-cushioned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. 

To explore the universe, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration must first redevelop capabilities abandoned more than 40 years ago when the U.S. shifted focus from Apollo’s lunar forays to rocketing crews a few hundred miles to low Earth orbit.
NASA has used Russian craft to reach the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

In a strategic shift, the Obama administration canceled plans to return to the moon, turning some flights to commercial companies while setting its sights -- and limited funds -- on pioneering deep space. The Orion capsule was originally commissioned in 2006 for the defunct Constellation program.

Musk, Bezos

Those moves paved the way for technology chieftains including Musk and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos to pursue their own space ambitions. 

Musk founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets, a massive endeavor that would require innovations such as reusable rocket stages to lower costs. 

Mars is also in focus for NASA as the space agency maps plans to “pioneer the space frontier,” according to a May 29 white paper.

$22 Billion

NASA proposes an initial $22 billion effort that includes two other Orion missions over the next eight years and building a powerful new rocket. The Delta IV being used tomorrow is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing Co. (BA) venture.

A new Space Launch System rocket being developed by the partnership is slated to hoist the next Orion craft beyond the moon in fiscal 2018, Lockheed’s Crocker said in a phone interview. The first manned Orion mission is slated for early in the next decade.
NASA’s plans are “sketchy” beyond that, aside from broad goals to capture asteroid samples in the 2020s and reach Mars a decade later, said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group. 

Average Distance

While Mars’s distance from Earth varies because of the two planets’ orbits, the average is about 140 million miles, almost 600 times longer than a trip to the moon. It’s so far that radio communications take as long as 20 minutes to travel each way, according to Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. 


Entrepreneurs such as Musk will have opportunities to get involved as NASA refines capsule and rocket designs. NASA plans to develop two larger rockets beyond the initial launch vehicle, which will be capable of hauling a 70-metric ton payload. 

“We’re not taking any options off the table,” Hill said. “We want to be sufficiently flexible so that if we find a new path, we can introduce it and not change course.” 

Expense, shifting political priorities and the lack of a clear NASA road map could still derail the latest effort as they did the Apollo program in the early 1970s, said Micah Walter-Range, director of research analysis with the Space Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

“All of the challenges that exist are surmountable,” Walter-Range said by phone. “It’s just a question of having the money to do it.”

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NASA Giving People Chance to Send Their Names to Mars on Orion Flight






Excerpt from cnet.com

Since Richard Branson hasn't gotten around to offering Mars vacations yet (he's still working out that whole suborbital thing), we're all pretty much stuck here on Earth for the time being. But NASA understands the human desire to write our names upon the stars, so it's giving everybody a chance to shoot their names up into space on the first Orion mission, scheduled to launch December 4.
The collected names will be included on a microchip the size of a dime. The first trip will be on board NASA's initial test flight for the new Orion spacecraft. It's set for a 4.5-hour mission in orbit around Earth. It will then take a flying leap back through the atmosphere and land in the Pacific Ocean.

When you sign up to send your name off into space on Orion, you're signing up to send your name to Mars at some future time.

Currently, nearly 95,000 people have submitted names to fly to Mars. To sign up, you just go to NASA's name-collecting site, fill out some basic information, and submit. The site then generates a digital "boarding pass." You get the simple message "Success! Your name will fly on Orion's flight test." Next, enjoy a happy little chill up your spine as you imagine your name zipping through the atmosphere and some day taking up residence on Mars.

NASA Mars Boarding Pass
Your name here – get your boarding pass for Mars! (via NASA)

NASA also will be tracking mileage for all of our names, giving us a spacey version of frequent-flyer award points. The points are just for fun, but it's also a way to keep the public engaged and following along with these groundbreaking missions.

The deadline for getting your name on Orion's inaugural flight is October 31. If you miss Orion this time, NASA will still give newcomers an opportunity to sign up for name fly-alongs on future missions.

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