Marcia Dunn writes:
Years late and billions over budget, NASA’s new moon rocket makes its debut next week in a high-stakes test flight before astronauts get on top.
The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket will attempt to send an empty crew capsule into a far-flung lunar orbit, 50 years after NASA’s famed Apollo moonshots.
If all goes well, astronauts could strap in as soon as 2024 for a lap around the moon, with NASA aiming to land two people on the lunar surface by the end of 2025.
Liftoff is set for Monday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The six-week test flight is risky and could be cut short if something fails, NASA officials warn.
“We’re going to stress it and test it. We’re going make it do things that we would never do with a crew on it in order to try to make it as safe as possible,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The retired founder of George Washington University’s space policy institute said a lot is riding on this trial run. Spiraling costs and long gaps between missions will make for a tough comeback if things go south, he noted.
“It is supposed to be the first step in a sustained program of human exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond,” said John Logsdon. “Will the United States have the will to push forward in the face of a major malfunction?”
The price tag for this single mission: more than $4 billion. Add everything up since the program’s inception a decade ago until a 2025 lunar landing, and there’s even more sticker shock: $93 billion.
NASA’s high-tech, automated Orion capsule is named after the constellation, among the night sky’s brightest. At 11 feet (3 meters) tall, it’s roomier than Apollo’s capsule, seating four astronauts instead of three. For this test flight, a full-size dummy in an orange flight suit will occupy the commander’s seat, rigged with vibration and acceleration sensors. Two other mannequins made of material simulating human tissue—heads and female torsos, but no limbs—will measure cosmic radiation, one of the biggest risks of spaceflight. One torso is testing a protective vest from Israel. Unlike the rocket, Orion has launched before, making two laps around Earth in 2014. This time, the European Space Agency’s service module will be attached for propulsion and solar power via four wings.
APOLLO VS. ARTEMIS
More than 50 years later, Apollo still stands as NASA’s greatest achievement. Using 1960s technology, NASA took just eight years to go from launching its first astronaut, Alan Shepard, and landing Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. By contrast, Artemis already has dragged on for more than a decade, despite building on the short-lived moon exploration program Constellation. Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972, staying no longer than three days at a time. For Artemis, NASA will be drawing from a diverse astronaut pool currently numbering 42 and is extending the time crews will spend on the moon to at least a week. The goal is to create a long-term lunar presence that will grease the skids for sending people to Mars. NASA’s Nelson, promises to announce the first Artemis moon crews once Orion is back on Earth.
There’s a lot more to be done before astronauts step on the moon again. A second test flight will send four astronauts around the moon and back, perhaps as early as 2024. A year or so later, NASA aims to send another four up, with two of them touching down at the lunar south pole. Orion doesn’t come with its own lunar lander like the Apollo spacecraft did, so NASA has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide its Starship spacecraft for the first Artemis moon landing. Two other private companies are developing moonwalking suits. The sci-fi-looking Starship would link up with Orion at the moon and take a pair of astronauts to the surface and back to the capsule for the ride home. So far, Starship has only soared six miles (10 kilometers). Musk wants to launch Starship around Earth on SpaceX’s Super Heavy Booster before attempting a moon landing without a crew. One hitch: Starship will need a fill-up at an Earth-orbiting fuel depot, before heading to the moon.Full article at Phys.org.
The development of advanced technology requires a remarkable suite of “prior fitness” factors that have allowed humans to progress from controlling fire to developing metallurgy to electronics and all their applications. I’ve just finished reading The Miracle of Man, by Michael Denton, who makes this case for any beings who have achieved the level of technology that is epitomized by NASA’s space program.