Monday, December 17, 2007

Moon Rising

More than 35 years ago, before most of us were born, humans walked on the Moon. With the US Vision, Japanese and other missions the Moon is again rising in public consciousness. To turn back now would be foolish. Last week NASA announced that the Lunar Surface Access Module, whose design is still undefined, will be named Altair. The original Lunar Module had no official name, but individual craft were christened Snoopy, Eagle, etc.

Many people are concerned about the "gap" between shuttle retirement in 2010 and introduction of Orion in (maybe) 2015. To keep servicing ISS, NASA would rely on the Russians or (maybe) private craft like SpaceX's Dragon. US Representative Curt Weldon, whose district includes Kennedy Space Center, has proposed to continue flying the shuttles until Orion is ready. In addition to safety concerns, his proposal would cost an additional 10 billion US.

Today we have Japanese and Chinese spacecraft orbiting the Moon, with more nations planning to join in. Next year we can look forward to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will search for possible landing sites. LRO will also search for resources that humans can use on the Moon. A Lunar Crater Observation and sensing satellite will impact the South Pole to aid in the search for water.

As reported here, Monday at AGU Associate Administrator Alan Stern announced selection of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory. GRAIL will consist of two small spacecraft orbiting in tandem to intimately measure the Moon's gravity field. This will provide data on the Moon's interior, which heretofore has been only speculation. In turn that will also provide clues to the formation of Earth and other worlds. The Principal Investigator will be Maria Zuber of MIT. Sally Ride will be assisting with public outreach. NASA only wants PI's with spacecraft experience (sorry, Saul) so it it pleasing to have women in charge.

UPDATE: for those who weren't there, here are Alan Stern's answers to my other questions:

1) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is permanently grounded for lack of Shuttle flights.

2) Though JWST is eating up the astrophysics budget, room was found to launch the NUSTAR Black Hole Probe in 2011.

3) Since people may not walk on Mars until after 2030, a Mars sample return mission is on the table.

Earlier exploration of the Moon yielded benefits too valuable to count. No one can forget the first Earthrise photos taken by the crew of Apollo 8. Before the internet, the entire human race shared the experience via radio and television. The Moon inspired a whole generation to study science. Finally, an anomaly in the Moon's recession is one more verification of a changing speed of light.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

methinks NASA has a PR disaster on it's hands if it is forced to go 'cap in hand' to Russia to get the boys and girls into orbit. The shuttle missions, from what i understand, already cost up to 1 billion per launch. What is another 10 billion in a post-halliburton world??? Retrofit the shuttles already and call it a day. I am seriously dismayed by the Orion Concept. It all feels so assbackwards...

6:55 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

We can hope that COTS or SpaceX's Dragon lead to a viable Space Transportation System. We've seen what happens when a small group of nations control the price of oil.

5:57 PM  
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10:07 AM  

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