Tag: the Orion

How the Government Suppresses Free Energy Technologies

Buck Rogers, Staff WriterHave you ever wondered what the world would be like if better and cleaner energy sources were widely available and affordable to all of earth’s people? If so, you’re not alone, as the quest for a better energy existence has been the focus of many ingenious inventors, scientists, experimenters and even corporate and government scientists for generations.We know it’s possible, but for some reason, though, society just can’t seem to get b [...]

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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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If the Moon Landings Were Real, Then Why is NASA Stumped by This?

Buck Rogers, Staff WriterWaking TimesDuring the cold war era the Soviet Union and the United States were locked in an arms and technology race, each nation wanting to prove their dominance over the other, each striving to be the next reigning superpower in a world still shattered by the second world war. The Soviet’s took the lead when in April of 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin successfully orbited the earth and returned home safely. In May, president John F. Kennedy ma [...]

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The Universe within 50,000 Light Years

This map shows the full extent of the Milky Way galaxy - a spiral galaxy of at least two hundred billion stars. Our Sun is buried deep within the Orion Arm about 26 000 light years from the centre. Towards the centre of the Galaxy the stars are ...

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Let’s go back to the moon. No, Mars. No, the moon. The debate continues.




Excerpt from washingtonpost.com
By Christian Davenport 

To the moon again? Or Mars?
The questions have hung over NASA for years, and emerged again at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Under President George W. Bush, the target was the moon. Under Obama, who said “we’ve been there before,” Mars became the mission.

But now as his term nears its end, there is some increasingly vocal criticism of that decision, saying there isn’t the funding or political will to get to Mars.

Focusing on Mars is a “flawed policy direction,” Scott Pace, the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University testified on Tuesday. The shift in goals “blindsided” the international space community, he said. The moon “is the next logical target for all of our potential international partners.”

Russia has endorsed sending astronauts there, he said. China sent an unmanned rover to the moon, and unveiled designs for a new heavy rocket for deep space exploration. It even has plans to build its own space station. “Growing space powers such as the Republic of Korea and India have their own unmanned lunar ambitions,” Pace said, while adding that the private sector has also made huge advancements.

To regain its prominence in space, the United States should “lead a multinational program to explore the moon," Pace said.

If it doesn’t, he could imagine a “post-American space world, with a full range of manned and unmanned space activities, but without American leadership or even, in many cases, an American presence.”

Testifying before the same committee, Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 pilot who was the second man to walk on the moon, said NASA is right to focus on going beyond the moon. "American leadership is more than simply getting one step ahead of our global competitors," he said. "American leadership is inspiring the world by consistently doing what no other nation is capable of doing."

Aldrin said he's working on a plan to get to Mars, and the next president should press ahead with the mission.

“I believe that early in the next administration, the nation must commit to developing a permanent presence on Mars,” he said.
With much fanfare, NASA has trumpeted its “Journey to Mars” campaign. And it has highlighted the unmanned test flight of the Orion capsule last year as evidence of its progress toward reaching the Red Planet. It is also developing a new heavy rocket, known as the Space Launch System, designed to go to Mars and deep space.

But critics have maintained that without the funding to support such an endeavor, the attempt is a little more than a public relations stunt. And while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other members the committee on Tuesday said they were committed to the new rocket, others have been less supportive.

“We made a wrong decision when we went down this road,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said at a hearing late last year.

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Top 6 tips for using ordinary binoculars for stargazing




Excerpt from earthsky.org


Admit it.  You’ve probably got a pair of binoculars lying around your house somewhere. They may be perfect – that’s right, perfect – for beginning stargazing. Follow the links below to learn more about the best deal around for people who want to get acquainted with the night sky: a pair of ordinary binoculars.
1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes
2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size
3. First, view the moon with binoculars.
4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars.
5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.
6. Use your binoculars to peer beyond the Milky Way.

1. Binoculars are a better place to start than telescopes. The fact is that most people who think they want to buy a telescope would be better off using binoculars for a year or so instead.  That’s because first-time telescope users often find themselves completely confused – and ultimately put off – by the dual tasks of learning the use a complicated piece of equipment (the ‘scope) while at the same time learning to navigate an unknown realm (the night sky).
Beginning stargazers often find that an ordinary pair of binoculars – available from any discount store – can give them the experience they’re looking for.  After all, in astronomy, magnification and light-gathering power let you see more of what’s up there.  Even a moderate form of power, like those provided by a pair of 7×50 binoculars, reveals 7 times as much information as the unaided eye can see.

You also need to know where to look. Many people start with a planisphere as they begin their journey making friends with the stars. You can purchase a planisphere at the EarthSky store. Also consider our Astronomy Kit, which has a booklet on what you can see with your binoculars.

2. Start with a small, easy-to-use size.  Don’t buy a huge pair of binoculars to start with! Unless you mount them on a tripod, they’ll shake and make your view of the heavens shakey, too. The video above – from ExpertVillage – does a good job summing up what you want. And in case you don’t want to watch the video, the answer is that 7X50 binoculars are optimum for budding astronomers.  You can see a lot, and you can hold them steadily enough that jitters don’t spoil your view of the sky.  Plus they’re very useful for daylight pursuits, like birdwatching. If 7X50s are too big for you – or if you want binoculars for a child – try 7X35s.

February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.
February 24, 2014 moon with earthshine by Greg Diesel Landscape Photography.

3. First, view the moon with binoculars. When you start to stargaze, you’ll want to watch the phase of the moon carefully. If you want to see deep-sky objects inside our Milky Way galaxy – or outside the galaxy – you’ll want to avoid the moon. But the moon itself is a perfect target for beginning astronomers, armed with binoculars. Hint: the best time to observe the moon is in twilight. Then the glare of the moon is not so great, and you’ll see more detail.

You’ll want to start your moon-gazing when the moon is just past new – and visible as a waxing crescent in the western sky after sunset. At such times, you’ll have a beautiful view of earthshine on the moon.  This eerie glow on the moon’s darkened portion is really light reflected from Earth onto the moon’s surface.  Be sure to turn your binoculars on the moon at these times to enhance the view. 
Each month, as the moon goes through its regular phases, you can see the line of sunrise and sunset on the moon progress across the moon’s face. That’s just the line between light and dark on the moon. This line between the day and night sides of the moon is called the terminator line.  The best place to look at the moon from Earth – using your binoculars – is along the terminator line. The sun angle is very low in this twilight zone, just as the sun is low in our sky around earthly twilight.  So, along the terminator on the moon, lunar features cast long shadows in sharp relief.

You can also look in on the gray blotches on the moon called maria, named when early astronomers thought these lunar features were seas.  The maria are not seas, of course, and instead they’re now thought to have formed 3.5 billion years ago when asteroid-sized rocks hit the moon so hard that lava percolated up through cracks in the lunar crust and flooded the impact basins. These lava plains cooled and eventually formed the gray seas we see today.

The white highlands, nestled between the maria, are older terrain pockmarked by thousands of craters that formed over the eons. Some of the larger craters are visible in binoculars. One of them, Tycho, at the six o’clock position on the moon, emanates long swatches of white rays for hundreds of miles over the adjacent highlands. This is material kicked out during the Tycho impact 2.5 million years ago.

View Larger. Photo of Jupiter's moons by Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto - are easily seen through a low-powered telescope. Click here for a chart of Jupiter's moons
Photo of Jupiter’s moons by Earthsky Facebook friend Carl Galloway. Thank you Carl! The four major moons of Jupiter are called Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. This is a telescopic view, but you can glimpse one, two or more moons through your binoculars, too.


4. Move on to viewing planets with binoculars. Here’s the deal about planets.  They move around, apart from the fixed stars.  They are wanderers, right?

You can use our EarthSky Tonight page to locate planets visible around now.  Notice if any planets are mentioned in the calendar on the Tonight page, and if so click on that day’s link.  On our Tonight page, we feature planets on days when they’re easily identifiable for some reason – for example, when a planet is near the moon.  So our Tonight page calendar can help you come to know the planets, and, as you’re learning to identify them, keep your binoculars very handy. Binoculars will enhance your view of a planet near the moon, for example, or two planets near each other in the twilight sky. They add a lot to the fun!

Below, you’ll find some more simple ideas on how to view planets with your binoculars.

Mercury and Venus. These are both inner planets.  They orbit the sun closer than Earth’s orbit.  And for that reason, both Mercury and Venus show phases as seen from Earth at certain times in their orbit – a few days before or after the planet passes between the sun and Earth.  At such times,  turn your binoculars on Mercury or Venus. Good optical quality helps here, but you should be able to see them in a crescent phase. Tip: Venus is so bright that its glare will overwhelm the view. Try looking in twilight instead of true darkness.

Mars. Mars – the Red Planet – really does look red, and using binoculars will intensify the color of this object (or of any colored star). Mars also moves rapidly in front of the stars, and it’s fun to aim your binoculars in its direction when it’s passing near another bright star or planet.

Jupiter. Now on to the real action!  Jupiter is a great binocular target, even for beginners.   If you are sure to hold your binoculars steadily as you peer at this bright planet,  you should see four bright points of light near it.  These are the Galilean Satellites – four moons gleaned through one of the first telescopes ever made, by the Italian astronomer Galileo. Note how their relative positions change from night to night as each moon moves around Jupiter in its own orbit.

Saturn.Although a small telescope is needed to see Saturn’s rings, you can use your binoculars to see Saturn’s beautiful golden color.  Experienced observers sometimes glimpse Saturn’s largest moon Titan with binoculars.  Also, good-quality high-powered binoculars – mounted on a tripod – will show you that Saturn is not round.  The rings give it an elliptical shape.

Uranus and Neptune. Some planets are squarely binocular and telescope targets. If you’re armed with a finder chart, two of them, Uranus and Neptune, are easy to spot in binoculars. Uranus might even look greenish, thanks to methane in the planet’s atmosphere. Once a year, Uranus is barely bright enough to glimpse with the unaided eye . . . use binoculars to find it first. Distant Neptune will always look like a star, even though it has an atmosphere practically identical to Uranus.

There are still other denizens of the solar system you can capture through binocs. Look for the occasional comet, which appears as a fuzzy blob of light. Then there are the asteroids – fully 12 of them can be followed with binoculars when they are at their brightest. Because an asteroid looks star-like, the secret to confirming its presence is to sketch a star field through which it’s passing. Do this over subsequent nights; the star that changes position relative to the others is our solar system interloper.

Milky Way Galaxy arching over a Joshua tree

Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters
Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters





5. Use your binoculars to explore inside our Milky Way.  Binoculars can introduce you to many members of our home galaxy. A good place to start is with star clusters that are close to Earth. They cover a larger area of the sky than other, more distant clusters usually glimpsed through a telescope.

Beginning each autumn and into the spring, look for a tiny dipper-like cluster of stars called the Pleiades.  The cluster – sometimes also called the Seven Sisters – is noticeable for being small yet distinctively dipper-like. While most people say they see only six stars here with the unaided eye, binoculars reveal many more stars, plus a dainty chain of stars extending off to one side. The Pleiades star cluster is looks big and distinctive because it’s relatively close – about 400 light years from Earth. This dipper-shaped cluster is a true cluster of stars in space.  Its members were born around the same time and are still bound by gravity.  These stars are very young, on the order of 20 million years old, in contrast to the roughly five billion years for our sun.

Stars in a cluster all formed from the same gas cloud. You can also see what the Pleiades might have like in a primordial state, by shifting your gaze to the prominent constellation Orion the Hunter. Look for Orion’s sword stars, just below his prominent belt stars. If the night is crisp and clear, and you’re away from urban streetlight glare, unaided eyes will show that the sword isn’t entirely composed of stars. Binoculars show a steady patch of glowing gas where, right at this moment, a star cluster is being born. It’s called the Orion Nebula. A summertime counterpart is the Lagoon Nebula, in Sagittarius the Archer.

With star factories like the Orion Nebula, we aren’t really seeing the young stars themselves. They are buried deep within the nebula, bathing the gas cloud with ultraviolet radiation and making it glow. In a few tens of thousands of years, stellar winds from these young, energetic stars will blow away their gaseous cocoons to reveal a newly minted star cluster.

Scan along the Milky Way to see still more sights that hint at our home galaxy’s complexity. First, there’s the Milky Way glow itself; just a casual glance through binoculars will reveal that it is still more stars we can’t resolve with our eyes . . . hundreds of thousands of them. Periodically, while scanning, you might sweep past what appears to be blob-like, black voids in the stellar sheen. These are dark, non-glowing pockets of gas and dust that we see silhouetted against the stellar backdrop. This is the stuff of future star and solar systems, just waiting around to coalesce into new suns.

Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.
Andromeda Galaxy from Chris Levitan Photography.

Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy.  See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?  Click here to expand image.
Many people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda Galaxy. See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?


6. Use your binoculars to view beyond the Milky Way.  Let’s leap out of our galaxy for the final stop in our binocular tour. Throughout fall and winter, she reigns high in the sky during northern hemisphere autumns and winters: Andromeda the Maiden. Centered in the star pattern is an oval patch of light, readily visible to the unaided eye away from urban lights. Binoculars will show it even better.

It’s a whole other galaxy like our own, shining across the vastness of intergalactic space. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy has traveled so far that it’s taken more than 2 million years to reach us.
Two smaller companions visible through binoculars on a dark, transparent night are the Andromeda Galaxy’s version of our Milky Way’s Magellanic Clouds. These small, orbiting, irregularly-shaped galaxies that will eventually be torn apart by their parent galaxy’s gravity.

Such sights, from lunar wastelands to the glow of a nearby island universe, are all within reach of a pair of handheld optics, really small telescopes in their own right: your binoculars.

John Shibley wrote the original draft of this article, years ago, and we’ve been expanding it and updating it ever since. Thanks, John!
Bottom line: For beginning stargazers, there’s no better tool than an ordinary pair of binoculars. This post tells you why, explains what size to get, and gives you a rundown on some of the coolest binoculars sights out there: the moon, the planets, inside the Milky Way, and beyond. Have fun!

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NASA’s Orion Conquers Orbital Test as U.S. Budget Debate Looms




Excerpt from
businessweek.com

The Orion spacecraft’s almost flawless debut flight set the stage for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next challenge: finding the funding to carry humans to Mars in the 2030s. 
The Apollo-like capsule orbited Earth twice yesterday to test critical functions, a 4 1/2-hour trip for the first U.S. vehicle built to transport humans to space since the shuttle in 1981. Now NASA must find political allies to keep championing a program that has already cost $7.4 billion. 

The voyage, less than two months after a pair of disasters stunned the commercial space industry, helps bolster NASA’s case for its biggest-ever expedition. Spending over 20 years for a Mars mission would dwarf outlays for the $100 billion International Space Station, the most expensive structure ever built.

“We have a new Congress in January -- let’s see what happens,” said Henry Hertzfeld, research professor of space policy and international affairs at George Washington University. At the very least, “anytime you have a success like that on something new, it’s great.” 

The NASA exploration budget that finances Orion and a new heavy-lift rocket is one of the few non-defense budget accounts for which House Republicans have proposed an increase from President Barack Obama’s request for fiscal 2015, said Brian Friel, a government fiscal analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

Spending Projections

Spending would rise 5 percent to $4.17 billion under the House bill, while the Senate proposes a 10 percent increase to $4.37 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The largest beneficiaries from more spending would be Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT:US), which manufactured the Orion, and Boeing Co. (BA:US), the contractor’s co-owner of the venture building the new rocket.

Orion is the first spaceship developed to carry humans beyond the moon, and later versions will be fine-tuned to travel to asteroids next decade and to Mars in the 2030s. NASA is targeting an Orion trip with astronauts by 2021. 

While Orion was among the top trending topics worldwide on Twitter.com, NASA’s new ambitions are unfolding amid a federal budget squeeze and the short attention spans of the social-media era, not the race-for-the-moon competition of the Cold War. 

At Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried Orion aloft, some of the weather-worn buildings displayed faded signs from news organizations that once camped out to chronicle the Apollo program. They were a reminder that interest in NASA diminished after the U.S. won the race to the moon.



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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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