Sunday, April 13, 2014

Get Your Ass to Mars

My sainted brother sent this brief reminder of the doldrums of our space program:

The gentleman in the photo, in case you've forgotten or, if you are a victim of public education and were never introduced, is Buzz Aldrin, who accompanied the late, great Neil Armstong in mankind's first landing on the moon.  And let us not forget that Michael Collins piloted their Apollo return vehicle that remained in orbit, fulfilling the mission requirement of President John F Kennedy that our national goal should be "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth."  Even as a young teenager, I thought it odd that he should include that specificity, as if someone might not read his precise intentions.  ("Oh, you want to bring him back too?  Well, that's a whole different kettle of fish.")

It is a pithy observation of the state of the US manned space program, which has ceased to exist, and Aldrin is part of a plan to revive it with his Unified Space Vision.
No giant leaps this time.  More like a hop, skip and a jump.  For these long-duration missions we need an entirely new spacecraft that I call the Exploration Module, or XM.  Unilke the Orion capsule, which is designed for short flights around the Earth and the moon, the XM would contain the radiation shields, artificial gravity, food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years.
The plan is set in five-year blocks that would include a visit to the fly-by comet 46P/Wirtanen, asteroid 2001 GP2, and then asteroid 99942 Apophis to investigate its chances of a collision with Earth in 2036.  The program would culminate with a landing in 2025 on the small and irregular Martian moon of Phobos, with a diameter of some 14 miles, providing "the perfect perch from which to monitor and control the robots that will build the infrastructure on the Martian surface, in preparation for the first human visitors."

Indeed.  Phobos is tiny compared to our giant moon (2136 miles in diameter) but orbits far closer to Mars, so that it's presentation from the surface is more pronounced than would be expected.

We would forego another mission to our own moon (no race with China, for example) except in conjunction with other space powers in a consortium, taking on an attitude of "been there, done that", in order to focus on the grander vision of Mars.

After wasting our opportunities on our space program in atrophy, it is high time to claw our way back into space.  Neil Armstrong, just prior to his death, issued a joint message along with Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell, that condemned our abandonment of a manned space program and the general withering of NASA overall.  It is a melancholy fact that the twelve men who have walked on the moon will not live to see this or any other return to active space exploration.  Four have already died (Alan Sheppard, Neil Armstrong, James Irwin, and Pete Conrad) and the youngest, Charlie Dike, will turn 79 in October.

1 comment:

  1. NASA's too bloated to do much of anything and has all those bureaucrats to pay so everything is sooo expensive. I'd look for SpaceX to get to Mars long before NASA does.


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