Saturday, February 02, 2008

Columbia + 5


5 years ago was the Columbia accident. Some scientists have always decried the cost of human spaceflight, so Columbia's last flight was a research mission. Because of different orbits, Columbia could not have docked with ISS. However, at the time Atlantis was being prepared for flight. If some safety protocols had been ignored, she could have been launched on a rescue mission. What an adventure that would have been, one spacecraft on a risky flight to rescue another while the whole world watched.

In its aftermath we have a new Vision for the Moon, Mars and Beyond. In this election year, the Vision faces an uncertain future. The 5+ years between Shuttle retirement and a new spacecraft is a matter of deep concern. The gap may be filled by privately built spacecraft.

Bigelow Aerospace and the United Launch Alliance have been in talks to send payloads into orbit. Starting in 2011, Atlas V boosters would service Bigelow's inflatable habitats. Atlas V would be human-rated to carry a crewed spacecraft. Along with SpaceX's plans for a crewed vehicle, we may fill the gap yet.

UPDATE: Whoops, this entry didn't get posted last week as planned. In the meantime Atlantis has finally launched and docked successfully with ISS. This flight was originally scheduled for October. With all the delays in spaceflight, do they really think they will launch Orion in March 2015? NASA's new budget plans for 2015, with an expanded astrophysics plan too.

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1 Comments:

Blogger nige said...

Thanks for this post. As a result, I've just been reading a bit about the planned retirement of the three surviving operational space shuttles in 2010, and their replacement with Orion vehicles carried by Ares I rockets. Orion and Ares I seems to be a near duplicate of the Apollo rocket system which put people on the moon.

One difference with 1969 will presumably be better quality live colour television pictures. At the end of the day, the Moon is just a lump of barren rock in a vacuum, heavily irradiated and roasting in daylight, but freezing in the dark.

A few years ago there was a compilation of films from the various Apollo missions. It started off with the astronauts on the first missions, in 1969, just doing scientific measurements. By the early 1970s, they were doing wheel spins using lunar rovers and playing golf on the moon, mainly to make it entertaining TV. There's something extremely cringeworthy about spaceflight when it becomes one big advert for cool, elitist American capitalism.

I hope that next time they get to the moon, they'll leave the car and the golf kit at home, and just concentrate on doing something far more constructive, like trying to build some structures (say an improvised underground shelter, because even a few feet of moon rock would substantially reduce radiation exposure) from lunar soil, or they could set up small solar-powered smelting kits and small solar powered electrolysis systems for extracting aluminium from moon rocks, to demonstrate the feasibility of producing the building blocks for constructive engineering on the moon with using local materials, instead of having to transfer building materials to the moon from the earth.

11:02 AM  

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