Friday, September 16, 2005

NASA shooting for the moon in 2018

I always thought, as I was growing up, that we'd have a permanent station on the moon by the year 2000. In the early 70's, just a few years after Apollo 11 landed a crew on the moon for a very short stay, it seemed that old Y2K was a long, long way off. Plenty of time to set up shop on the moon and have regularly scheduled flights there and back.

As they say, that was then...

The fact of the matter is that there are some resources here on Earth that we absolutely need to use and that are absolutely not renewable. Forget about oil - buring it for energy, in any case - and think about things like copper or iron. That stuff doesn't just appear out of nowhere and, with the Earth's population increasing, there will come a point where there just won't be any of it around that we can get at. Mankind's destiny is in the stars. To get there is going to require technologies the likes of which we've only imagined and developing them will require loads of research, trial, and error. The first step in reaching those distant stars is to reach out to our closest celestial neighbor and that's the moon.

NASA has apparently come to the same conclusion and has delivered its plan to the White House to put people back on the moon by 2018.

::::::::The space agency presented its lunar exploration plan to the White House on Wednesday and on Capitol Hill on Friday. An announcement is set for Monday at NASA headquarters in Washington.

The fact that this successor to the soon-to-be-retired shuttle relies so heavily on old-time equipment, rather than sporting fancy futuristic designs, "makes good technological and management sense," said John Logsdon, director of George Washington University's space policy institute.

Some of that "old-time" equipment actually refers to technology developed for use in the Apollo program. The idea is to launch not 1 rocket but 2. One will take up the crew compartment and "command module", to use Apollo's parlance. The other will carry the lunar lander, equipment, and the propulsion system that will be used to make the flight to the moon and back. This second rocket will be launched unmanned and will achieve orbit essentially on autopilot. The crew vehicle will be launched after the unmanned systems have achieved stable orbit and, once separated from it's own launch vehicle, will rendevous with the rest of the lunar package. The combined payloads will then form the entire lunar system and leave orbit from here.

I'm not at all adverse to them using older tech to get this job done. Take away the fancy emissions controls and power accessories and my 2005 Toyota is basically the same beast as the 1975 Plymouth I drove back in the day. We use that technology because it works, we understand it well, and it's reliable. No reason to make rockets science into... well... rocket science. (You get me, I know you do.) I'm very pleased they've got a plan to make a shot at it. I wish it could be faster, but there are a lot of priorities right now. I can only hope for the best for them.