Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Direct Route

John F. Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade." In 1961 NASA was still not sure how to do that. Sending one spacecraft to the Moon and back would require a Nova rocket larger than was practical to build. The leading paradigm was an Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR), requiring two spacecraft to be launched separately. This was remarkably similiar to the current plan. A rebel group within NASA believed in a Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR), which would require only one launch.

At the time LOR was excluded from discussion, as a changing speed of light is today. A courageous engineer named John Houbolt skipped the chain of command and wrote a letter directly to NASA's associate administrator. "Somewhat as a voice in the wilderness," Houbolt wrote, "Do we want to go to the moon or not? Why is Nova, with its ponderous size simply just accepted, and why is a much less grandiose scheme involving rendezvous ostracised or put on the defensive?"

Fortunately for history, Houbolt's arguments were accepted. In July 1962 NASA Administrator James Webb officially approved LOR. At the time no two spacecraft had mated even in Earth orbit. Even President Kennedy's science advisor thought LOR too risky. If not for this brave choice, reaching the Moon in the 1960's would have been impossible.

With a nod to Chair Force Engineer, history may soon repeat itself. A grass-roots effort, supported by engineers and managers within NASA, is proposing an alternate plan. This DIRECT launcher would replace both Ares I and Ares V. One new rocket would be far less expensive to develop and operate than two. This proposal would have more commonality with existing shuttle hardware. As seen above, it would use the existing shuttle launch facilities. (The white thing in the sky is the Moon).

The DIRECT launcher would use two of the existing Solid Rocket Boosters, strapped to a core stage based closely on the shuttle External Tank. A single launch could lift 98 MT to LEO, or carry both the Orion CEV and a lunar module. As seen below, this configuration is very much like the Saturn V that launched people to the Moon in 1969. This booster could also be adapted for Mars Direct missions. Given the budget pressures and continuing fight to keep the Vision alive, this is a proposal that should be considered.

As Mahndisa has noted, I sympathise with mavericks. If we are to reach the Moon, Mars and Beyond the political will must last for decades. The Vision has strong bipartisan and international support. I hope that our politicians stay the course, so that our generation does the Moonwalk.


Blogger nige said...

Maybe it will happen if North Korea or China expands its missile/rocket research and decides to conquer the Moon and plant a communist flag, like the USSR was planning when Kennedy gave that speech.

However, I'm with Quantoken in accepting that the "peak oil" induced economic crisis will permanently terminate any American Moon-reaching pipe-dreams within five years:

The world is supposedly going to suffer panic share selling and economic collapse when oil production passes its peak and begins to subside, anyday now: "The oil coming out of Saudis biggest oil fields now contains more than 50% water, and they are injecting 3 barrels of sea water to get one barrel of this mixed liquid out. That's a fact, not fiction. How much longer do you think the oil can continue to flow from the ground?" - Quantoken, comment on:

More on the alleged looming "peak oil" price flip / economic crisis: and also see and

Tony Smith plots the graph of the oil reserve and draws an analogy between oil and cat's milk:

'Almost Half of Earth's Easy-Flowing Oil is near the Persian Gulf ... By 2012 A.D. shortages will be severe.'

The most probable future is that America will run out of gasoline and go bankrupt, North Korea and/or China will take over the world, and they'll reach the Moon.

2:15 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Yes, things look tough sometimes. I've been watching videos from the 1960's, when the world was threatened by the USSR. Kennedy and others had this thing called optimism which is still needed today. Though the USSR was a more formidable threat, the US beat them to the Moon and in other things.

No argument that we use too much oil and too much from foreign sources. The UK has the good fortune of North Sea oil. but may become a net importer of oil soon. The price of oil peaked at $97.50 in inflation-adjusted dollars during 1979, after the Iranian revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It looked like the Concorde cosmology with "dark energy" would be mantra for 1500 years, like Ptolemy. However, I see more and more people questioning it. One sign is that the JDEM may lose funding. Another sign is that "dark energy" is not accepted outside a narrow circle of cosmologists.

This writer lives a simple lifestyle and doesn't pay energy bills. So, I will continue to be optimistic. It got people to the Moon once...

7:58 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

I agree that we need optimism. Unfortunately, the situation is dire. We may need 20%GDP each year just to combat climate change with new technologies. That doesn't even consider peak oil, food stock depletion, water shortages and other problems. Even if everybody decides to be good all of a sudden, will they justify this sort of science funding? I would like to think so, but I just don't see how it can happen. Certainly, there is more hope in China than in the U.S.

2:05 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Hi Kea,

Lubos Motl is right about the climate change manure because what the doom-sayers of climate change forget is that we're running out of fossile fuels anyhow!

Before the world is wrecked completely by global warming, we'll have run out of oil, coal, gas (North Sea oil is far more expensive than Arabic supplies because of the costs of oil rigs in the North Sea, and gas - "vapour" I suppose to USA readers to avoid confusion with gas(oline) - is seriously more expensive now that the market is opened up to Europe by a new gas pipeline, and if I buy a new home I'm getting all-electric heating, not the traditional piped gas heating currently used in most of the UK).

To combat global warming, go nuclear. Nuclear is clean, safe, and it is EVEN ECONOMICAL if you lower radioactive pollution horseshit propaganda and shoot crackpots who claim radiation is lethal.

Those people don't understand background radiation, or the effect of higher altitudes, air travel, etc on radiation exposure.

They think "natural" radiation is safe and "artificial" radiation from nuclear power is totally different.

The Health Physicists who work in the nuclear industry are a load of gormless, feeble, patronising fools who couldn't explain anything to anybody without making it sound like condescending pro-nuclear propaganda, which is why the situation continues.

They have no idea that physics and maths are well known, and that people can by and large understand radiation. They perpetuate the myths.

The FIRST thing physicists in the f***ing nuclear industry should put on their posters is the fact that on the Moon the natural radiation is 50 times higher than on earth, 1 mR/hr on Moon compared to 0.02 mR/hr on Earth (the earth's atomsphere shields most of the background radiation, which is 99% protons and alpha particles).

Then they should give the ACTUAL (not relative!) natural dose rates in different cities with different bedrocks and altitudes above sea level! The thorium rich beach sands of Brazil and India are more radioactive than 90% of the "nuclear waste" from the nuclear industry!

It is a wide range!!! Then, finally, they should show the lies about low level radiation by plotting the mortality in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and other long-term reliable studies as a function of dose.

It is true that massive doses severely increase leukemia rates, but it is a lie that small doese do so in proportion, or that other cancers are increases in the same way. Leukemia is a special problem, because the bone marrow is very susceptible to ionising radiation.

Particularly, high-LET (linear energy transfer) radiations like alpha and beta and also soft x-rays (which cause ionisation by the photoelectric effect) inside the body increase cancer risks, NOT low-LET radiation like gamma rays (unless the dose is really massive).

People should be aware that the more penetrating the radiation is, the less of it gets stopped by soft tissue in the body, so the LOWER the absorbed dose per unit of fluence!

The real dangers from low level radiation are from ingesting or inhaling soluble alpha and beta emitters, like radium and strontium-90 respectively, which get deposited in bone and can cause leukemia. Radon gas from the decay of radium is also a massive natural hazard, killing far more people than all the hundreds of megatons of 1950s nuclear tests or Chernobyl.

Chernobyl showed that iodine-131 causes a short term problem (half like 8 days) after an explosion, because it gets concentrated in milk and then in kid's thyroid glands and can cause lumps (mostly benign). The answer is simple: for the few weeks while milk is contaminated, either put it through an ion-exchanger to remove the iodine-131, or switch to using powdered milk or simply put the cattle in winter barns eating winter feed like hay so that they don't eat contaminated grass! Problem sorted!

See for more info on this!

Regards Hiroshima and Nagasaki long-term radiation effects cover-up, see links on

Fewer than 1% of victims died due to cancer caused by radiation!!!!!

The maximum leukemia rate occurred in 1952 and ever since has been declining. There were no genetic effects above the normal rate in offspring of even highly irradiated survivors and cancer risks were carefully studied:

'The Life Span Study (LSS) population consists of about 120,000 persons who were selected on the basis of data from the 1950 Japanese National Census. This population includes ... atomic-bomb survivors living in Hiroshima or Nagasaki and nonexposed controls. ... all persons in the Master Sample who were located less than 2,500 meters from the hypocenter ATB were included in the LSS sample, with about 28,000 persons exposed at less than 2,000 meters serving as the core. Equal numbers of persons who had been located 2,500-9,999 meters from hypocenter ... were selected to match the core group by age and sex. ... As of 1995, more than 50% of LSS cohort members are still alive. As of the end of 1990, almost 38,000 deaths have occurred in this group, including about 8,000 cancer deaths among the 87,000 survivors. Approximately 430 of these cancer deaths are estimated to be attributable to radiation.'

More here.

Sorry to go on, but all this environmental crackpottery just drives me nuts.


8:06 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

History shows us that life finds a way and the world muddles along. The next post shows that the Universe continues to build new structures for us.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Sorry to go on, but all this environmental crackpottery just drives me nuts.

So you think ALL of those climate scientists are just balmy? I suggest you look at the data yourself before you decide to share the opinion of the uninformed. Maybe nuclear power is a part of the solution. I come from a uranium + coal + gas rich country, so we have certainly considered the various options.

12:08 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Hi Kea,


The mathematical models the lying global warming "predictions" use assume we are NOT running out of fossil fuels.

If they put the expected decline (see for graph) into the model, you'd see that the coming end of fossil fuels terminates the global warming issue.



1:44 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Keep it civil everyone, I value all your opinions.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Nigel, I did not use the term 'global warning'. I used the term 'climate change'. And at no point did I disagree with you about nuclear power. I fail to comprehend how you can lump all environmental concerns in with the loony ideas that are out there. It is quite clear that you know a lot less than me about glaciology so I suggest that we put this topic aside so as not to further disturb Louise's wonderful blog.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

And by the way, due to the time lag, there are justified warming fears due to fossil fuels that we have already burnt.

1:13 PM  
Blogger nige said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:14 AM  
Blogger nige said...

Hi Kea,

I stated global warming is a fact because there is evidence for it.

There is also evidence that if I received 1 Sievert of radiation, I'd have a significantly increased risk of getting certain types of cancer. What is wrong is the extrapolation - against evidence - that this "must be" a linear law at low doses.

Similarly, despite climate change, there is no evidence that the world will be literally destroyed by climate change. Glaciers have been forming and retreating intermittently throughout the temperature changes in the last ice age (which has several periods of rapidly changing temperature). Even during the holocene to the present, the temperature rise has been non-uniform. Things are always in a state of change on this planet. If the planet was in a completely stable equilibrium, it would be dead.

Clearly, recent temperature rises are in part due to CO2 over the last century.

But the endless hype claiming that this will continue at present levels and destroy the planet by sea level rises is not substantiated by the evidence on the affordable reserves of oil and other fuels which produce vast quantities of CO2 when used.


1:18 AM  
Blogger Kea said...


I would kindly request that you not attempt to lecture me on glaciology. The point about rising sea levels is complex. It is not the simple minded picture that you seem to think we have in mind. Rising sea levels will undoubtedly force large scale human migration, for instance. This has an enormous economic cost, even if the people only have to move from the seashore to the hilly suburbs. The costs build up rapidly. Now I'm not an economist (although I did work as a financial analyst for a couple of years) but I doubt very much whether you are in a position to refute the current concensus of responsible economists on this issue.

4:22 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Dear Kea,

I did plough through an undergraduate course on evolution which missed out most of the interesting stuff (how life emerged in the first place) and concentrated on the last ice age and holocene. So if I can't lecture on what I learned fromthat, education is a waste of time.

Next, consensus is political, and science is about facts. Consensus holds that

(1) we're running out of CO2 generating fossil fuels from the point of view of resources diminishing, and

(2) we're NOT running out of CO2 generating fossil fuels from the point of view of climatic predictions, which assume CO2 output either REMAINING STABLE, or in most cases INCREASING.

So consensus is self-contradictory (due to political expediency, the need to acknowledge that humans are so mighty and God-like that they have the power to destroy the planet, somehow). The point is that nobody listens to the obvious facts, which are totally at odds with consensus. The reason is precisely that: consensus is more important than facts are. Lemmings.

Anyway, I'll leave it there.


1:19 AM  
Blogger Kea said...


You have just admitted to knowing absolutely nothing at all about glaciology. One doesn't learn things from lecture courses. You should know that. Until you have trudged countless miles upon glaciers and studied them in reality you cannot even begin to understand them.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Are you calling me a lemming? That's one of the funniest things I ever heard.

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