Friday, June 12, 2009

Lunar Surface Rendezvous


Another peek into the hatch of the Orion mockup. In a Lunar Surface Rendezvous, Orion would land on the Moon, where it would be refuelled for the return trip by a second, unmanned lander.

John Kennedy challenged America to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth. When the first Moon missions were planned, engineers faced a dilemma. No chemical rocket could land crew on the Moon and return them in one launch. Von Braun's first plan called for two launches and an Earth orbit rendezvous. One vehicle would provide fuel for the other to reach the Moon. Rebel engineers proposed a riskier Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR). Thanks to those determined engineers the US reached the Moon in the 1960's.

The present Constellation plan uses both Earth Orbit Rendezvous and Lunar Orbit Rendezvous. Each crewed mission to the Moon will require launching both Ares I and the big Ares V. As we saw this weekend with STS-127, many things can delay a rocket launch. If either Ares I or Ares V fails to make the rendezvous, a very expensive mission could be scrubbed.

Former NASA engineer Dan Adamo has come up with an alternate plan, a Lunar Surface Rendezvous. In this scenario two Ares V vehicles would separately launch to the Moon, one bringing crew and the other fuel. The key to the plan is a refuelling at the landing site. Hitting the same landing site on the Moon is fairly easy--40 years ago Apollo 12 landed within feet of Surveyor. According to Dan, this plan offers many advantages for reliability and crew safety.

Friday in Johnson Space Center Building 16 Dan had a chance to present his plan to interested NASA personnel. The NASA engineers know their jobs and asked very detailed questions. Dan has also tried to contact the Augustine Commission. In this critical year 2009, multiple plans for reaching the Moon will be considered. Let us hope that minority ideas get their chance.

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