Former NASA Flight Director Says A Return To The Moon Is Necessary Before Heading To MarsBy Charles Poladian | Thu, 2014-12-11 12:33
NASA's plan to send humans to Mars in the 2030s is off to a great start. The Orion spacecraft test flight Friday went according to plan and the capsule survived reentry. While NASA awaits the capsule's return to the Kennedy Space Center, the space agency faces years of planning to make Mars a reality.
The Orion test flight was the first step in NASA's ambitious "Next Giant Leap" which ends with the first humans on Mars in the 2030s. Orion is crucial to getting astronauts to Mars and the spacecraft will also be used in an asteroid redirect mission in the 2020s. As part of that mission, NASA will use Orion to capture a near-Earth asteroid and place it in a safe orbit near the moon. A second flight will send astronauts to the captured asteroid to collect samples and return to Earth.
But what about plans for a return to the moon? ""First, you go to the moon before you go to Mars," George W.S. Abbey, a former director of NASA's Johnson Space Center said in an interview with the International Business Times.
Abbey, is currently the Baker Botts Senior Fellow in Space Policy at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Abbey was named director of flight operations in 1976 and helped develop strategies for future moon and Mars missions. Speaking to International Business Times, Abbey said international cooperation is a key to future missions and a return to the moon is necessary before NASA can get to Mars.
"You're not going to go to Mars before going back to the moon. You need to establish a goal to go to the moon and do that first and have a program laid out for an effective way to do it, but they're not doing that right now and I think that's really key to exploration," Abbey said.
The Apollo program, Abbey said, was "based on the schedule dictated by President Kennedy that he wanted to go to the moon and safely return astronauts to the Earth before the end of the decade. So, we had a definite goal we were aiming for and everything we did was to make sure that we could meet that goal.
"Unfortunately, we had a tragedy on the launchpad that set us back," Abbey said, referring to the Apollo 1 cabin fire in 1967 that killed three astronauts. "That was very difficult, but probably we came out of that with a much better program. ... I think the Apollo fire probably helped ensure us really being able to get to the moon by the end of the decade and do it safely.
"We went through a major redesign of the Apollo spacecraft," Abbey said. "We redesigned a lot of components and a lot of systems and came up with nonflammable materials that we used inside the command module, tested and verified those, and flew safely in Apollo 7 in October 1968."
Abbey said NASA had already committed to Apollo 8 before Apollo 7 was even completed. Apollo 8, which launched in December 1968, was the first manned mission to leave Earth's orbit and circle the moon. The spacecraft launched on a Saturn V rocket. “That was the first flight of humans on the Saturn V," Abbey said. "The flight before that we had two engines fail on the second stage, and the third-stage engine wouldn’t restart, which was critical to being able to inject us on a course for the moon. The spacecraft LM adapter, which was on that vehicle and surrounded the lunar module, came apart.”
Apollo 8 launched on Dec. 21 and orbited the moon on Christmas Eve. The spacecraft provided mankind's first view of Earth in its entirety, the "big blue marble," as it would later be dubbed. "That was a very moving occasion when we did that, when the astronauts were reading the Bible,” Abbey said.
Apollo 9, another test of the lunar module, was launched two months after Apollo 8, on March 3, 1969. Then, in May, the Apollo 10 mission went to the moon to scout a landing site for Apollo 11, Abbey explained. "Two astronauts descended in the lunar module to a low altitude over the site and docked with the command module," Abbey said. "Two months later, in July, we landed on the moon.”
With the goal completed, the Apollo program finally had some breathing room. Five months after Apollo 11's historic mission, Apollo 12 focused on honing flight capabilities as it headed to the moon. Abbey was a member of the operations team during the next flight, Apollo 13, which was intended to land on the moon. But as the spacecraft neared the moon, an oxygen tank exploded, forcing the three astronauts to act fast to create a carbon dioxide removal system that would allow them to return safely to Earth on April 17, 1970.
"On Apollo 15, 16 and 17, we took a lunar rover to the moon and really maximized the scientific return on the last three missions," Abbey said. "It was a time of great challenge and there was a lot of activity going on all the time. When we flew Apollo 17 in December 1972 , the crew was already training for the first flight of [the space station] Skylab, which took place in May 1973."
After the Apollo missions, NASA began the first phase of international cooperation and worked with the Soviets on several docking missions while developing the space shuttle."It was an exciting time and there was always a vision for the future as to where we were going and what we were going to do," Abbey said.
As for parallels between Apollo and Orion, Abbey has some concerns about NASA's next-generation spacecraft. "Orion is a program that doesn't really have a destination. It's a vehicle that is being built, but NASA doesn't have a destination for it. They say they are going to Mars, but you're not going to Mars until you solve some really major issues. Radiation is certainly an issue that needs to be resolved before you send crew safely to Mars, and I think you need to come up with some new propulsion systems to go to Mars," Abbey said. "Orion is quite different from Apollo and quite a different program. The next flight for Orion won't be for another five years."
A future phase of NASA's Orion program is a proposed asteroid mission in the 2020s. But Abbey believes NASA should focus on international cooperation, working with India and China as well as Russia, and a return to the moon. "I don't think it's got a lot of support in Congress and I don't think it's really supported in NASA," he said. "They say they're going to do an asteroid mission, but I'm not sure if they know how to do it and I'm not sure if it will ever happen." NASA, he said, should "take advantage of the fact we've been able to assemble structures in Earth's orbit ... where you can then fly missions to the moon."
International cooperation would reduce costs for future missions and would utilize the capabilities of other countries, Abbey said. Companies such as Boeing and SpaceX could serve as contributors and partners instead of the missions just being funded by the government. Companies could help provide resources and form partnerships with NASA much like the other countries involved in the program, he said.
Abbey said NASA should continue its "very successful robotic exploration program" on Mars and work with other countries, including India, in these efforts. "The United States needs to take a leadership role," he said. "When we stopped flying the shuttle we kind of gave up our role as leader and somehow we need to regain that."Article:www.ibtimes.com/pulse/former-n…Our Last Footprints on the Moon: Remembering Apollo 17By Carl M. Cannon - December 11, 2014
Forty-two years ago today, former U.S. Navy pilot Eugene Cernan and enterprising geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt climbed out of their Apollo 17 command module, America, and into their lunar module, Challenger, which they piloted to a spectacular valley on the edge of the Sea of Serenity.
They explored an area in what is known as the Valley of Taurus-Littrow, and would later head back to their orbiting spaceship, the last human beings to walk on the moon.
“As I step off at the surface of Taurus-Littrow, I'd like to dedicate the first steps of Apollo 17 to all those who made it possible,” Cernan radioed back to Houston.
Then, as he actually stepped onto the moon’s surface, Gene Cernan’s spontaneous emotions took over. “Oh, my golly,” gushed Apollo 17’s commander. “Unbelievable!”
It certainly seems so now, more than four decades later. But the story of final lunar mission is worth revisiting, and remembering.
Ronald E. Evans Jr., the command module pilot on Apollo 17, learned he’d been accepted into NASA’s astronaut program while flying combat missions in Vietnam. In a sense, this was a harbinger. By December 7, 1972, when the Saturn V rocket took off after midnight from the Kennedy Space Center -- the program’s only nighttime launch -- Americans’ attention was on issues other than space travel, including the long, grinding Vietnam War.
In an attempt to maintain civilian interest, not to mention congressional support, NASA finally had given in to National Academy of Science lobbying for inclusion of a geologist on an Apollo flight. This led to the selection of New Mexico-born Jack Schmitt, who had been working with the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona when the call went out for volunteer scientist-astronauts.
“I thought about 10 seconds and raised my hand,” he later recalled.
Schmitt’s eventual selection as the third man on the Apollo 17 crew meant that Joseph H. Engle, originally recommended by crew assignment director Deke Slayton, was bumped. Cernan and Evans were less than thrilled at the grounding of their fellow test pilot, but Schmitt’s competence soon won them over.
In the end, Cernan and Schmitt spent 75 hours on the moon’s surface, covering some 30 kilometers in their various moon vehicles, and bringing back 243 pounds of moon rocks. The three Apollo 17 astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 19, 1972, and were picked up by the USS Ticonderoga.
In Houston, the men were met at their homes by enthusiastic neighbors, but the rest of America wasn’t riveted in the same way anymore. “You may leave here for four days in space,” sang Barry McGuire, “but when you return it’s the same old place.”
Actually, the crew of Apollo 17 traveled the heavens for 12 days, not four, and knew even before liftoff that they would likely be the last for many years to come. Afterwards, they went on with their lives:
Ron Evans retired from NASA and took a job in Arizona. He was only 56 when he died of a heart attack.
Jack Schmitt’s luck held out, for a while, anyway. He ran for the Senate from New Mexico, winning his maiden campaign in 1976. Six years later, however, his was one of the Republican seats lost because of the now-forgotten “Reagan recession” of 1982.
Gene Cernan, now 80, is still involved in NASA-related educational efforts, and is a proponent of a robust U.S. presence in space. Joe Engle may not have made it to the moon, but he flew aboard the space shuttle and is still flying high performance aircraft -- even though he’s two years older than Cernan.
But let’s give the last word to the commanding officer of Apollo 17. In his autobiography, Gene Cernan expounded on his feelings when he first landed on the moon.
“I lowered my left foot and the thin crust gave way,” he wrote. “Soft contact. There, it was done. A Cernan footprint was on the moon. I had fulfilled my dream. No one could ever take this moment away. I felt comfortable, as if I belonged there. I was standing on God's front porch.”Read more: www.realclearpolitics.com/arti…Forget Pluto, comets or Mars — let’s go back to the moonBy Dominic Basulto December 12 at 7:38 AM
This has been an exciting past month for space exploration. We’ve seen a historic landing on the surface of a comet and the launch of Orion, NASA’s next-generation spacecraft. And, starting in January, we’ll begin to see gorgeous, never-before-seen imagery of Pluto, thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft. There’s certainly reason for optimism. According to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., the Orion launch unofficially marked “Day One of the Mars era.” So here’s what might seem like a backward-looking proposition: Sending a manned mission to the moon — not to Mars — should be the primary national space priority for the United States.
The biggest reason, quite simply, has nothing to do with the level of today’s science or technology and everything to do with national pride and global influence. If America doesn’t go back to the moon and eventually establish a permanent lunar base there, someone else will. And whichever country is most active in moon exploration will have the biggest say in the moon’s future development.
The most likely candidate to do so is China, which soft-landed the Jade Rabbit rover on the moon at the end of 2013. Moreover, Chinese scientists have floated various draft proposals for a manned mission to the moon as early as 2025. To make that a reality, China is working on developing new rockets for manned moon missions. And there are plenty of other contenders – including Japan, India and Russia, as well as a host of private companies — who are actively looking for ways to get to the moon. Just look at the number of private teams — 18 – still remaining in the Google Lunar X Prize competition.
Fine, okay, you say that NASA has seen that, done that, been there, and has no need to send a man or woman to the moon to prove the United States is still No. 1 in space and a global technology leader. That’s essentially the Buzz Aldrin argument for thinking big and moving on to Mars. After 45 years, there’s no need to relive past glories, as the legendary Apollo astronaut has repeatedly pointed out. The United States, he says, shouldn’t be spending billions to launch a new Apollo-style program. But even fellow astronauts, including man-on-the-moon Neil Armstrong, have advocated for more focus and direction to NASA’s human spaceflight program, and that usually means less emphasis on going to Mars.
And there are reasons for going back to the moon that go beyond just national pride. Based on the learning and experience we have on sending manned missions to the moon, we can prepare for manned space exploration elsewhere. We’re just not ready for manned exploration to Mars quite yet.
This is the argument recently made by celebrity astronaut Chris Hadfield, who, it could be argued, has 45,000 different reasons why he should be considered a space authority. Speaking at a Guardian Live event at the Royal Geographical Society in London Dec. 7, Hadfield took issue with the recent focus on manned missions to Mars. His words were stark: “If we started going to Mars any time soon everybody would die.” And then to clarify, he said: “We don’t know what we are doing yet. We have to have a bunch of inventions between now and Mars.”
In short, once we establish a manned lunar program, and perhaps even a permanent lunar research base on the moon, we can use that to build experience and knowledge for going further, maybe even to Mars. As Christopher McKay, a planetary scientist with NASA, has pointed out, there are six good reasons NASA should build a research base on the moon. We need to practice living on the moon before we can realistically think about forming colonies on Mars, he says. We also need to learn how to assess the health impacts of living in space.
And there’s another reason — a purely commercial reason — for going back to the moon. A manned lunar program could open the door to new industries such as space tourism and establish the moon as a refueling or way station for longer trips elsewhere, such as to asteroids. Plus, there is now growing speculation that resource extraction on the moon that wasn’t feasible a generation ago may now be possible, opening the door to the creation of new mining industries. For example, the Chinese are reportedly looking into the possible mining of resources like helium-3, which could theoretically be used to fuel nuclear reactors.
Sending a manned exploration mission to Mars by the mid-2030s is a wonderful idea. It’s the type of big idea that resonates with the public, with NASA and with the government. Back in 2010, it was the type of big idea that was part and parcel of the Obama Administration’s message of hope. But is going to Mars within the next decade “hope” or “reality”? Even NASA admits that it will be at least seven years before there are any crewed missions in the new Orion spacecraft, which puts us at 2021 before anything really big happens in the “Mars era.”
It has now been 45 years since a man last walked on the moon, and that’s far too long. It would be embarrassing if China or another of the “Asian space race” nations ends up doing something America should have done a long time ago. When we look up at the moon at night, we should think first and foremost about the legacy of America’s brave moon innovators, not about lost chances. Article:www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/i…Apollo 17 and the Case for Returning to the MoonJeffrey Kluger @jeffreykluger Dec. 11, 2014
It's been two generations since the moon was eclipsed in NASA's priorities
Richard Nixon was a lunar buzzkill—but at least he was honest about it. During the early years of the space program, Nixon held no political office, which put him on the sidelines for all of the one-man Mercury flights and two-man Gemini flights, as well as the first two flights of the Apollo program. But he assumed the presidency in January of 1969 and was thus the one who got to spike the football in July of that year, phoning the moon from the Oval Office to congratulate the Apollo 11 crew on their historic lunar landing.
During the final lunar landing mission—Apollo 17, which left Earth on Dec. 7, 1972 and reached the moon on Dec. 11—Nixon was candid about what the future held for America’s exploratory ambitions, and it was not good. “This may be the last time in this century that men will walk on the moon,” he said in a formal pronouncement.
As it turned out, things have been even bleaker than that. It’s been 42 years since Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan climbed up the ladder of his lunar module, leaving the final human footprint in a patch of lunar soil. TIME’s coverage of the mission provides not only an account of the events, but a sense—unintended at the time—of just how long ago they unfolded. There are the quotation marks that the editors thought should accompany the mention of a black hole, since really, how many people had actually heard of such a thing back then? There was, predictably, the gender bias in the language—with rhapsodic references to man’s urge to explore, man standing on the threshold of the universe. It may be silly to scold long-ago writers for such usage now—but that’s not to say that, two generations on, it doesn’t sound awfully odd.
Over the course of those generations, we’ve made at least one feint at going back to the moon. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush announced a new NASA initiative to return Americans to the lunar surface by 2020. But President Obama scrapped the plan and replaced it with, well, no one is quite certain. There’s a lot of talk about capturing a small asteroid and placing it in lunar orbit so that astronauts can visit it—a mission that is either intriguing, implausible or flat-out risible, depending on whom you talk to. And Mars is on the agenda too—sort of, kind of, sometime in the 2030s.
But the moon, for the moment, is off America’s radar—and we’re the poorer for it. There were nine manned lunar missions over the course of three and a half glorious years, and half a dozen of them landed. That makes six small sites on an alien world that bear human tracks and scratchings—and none at all on the the far side of that world, a side no human but the 24 men who have orbited the moon have seen with their own eyes.
We tell ourselves that we’ve explored the moon, and we have—after a fashion. But only in the sense that Columbus and Balboa explored the Americas when they trod a bit of continental soil. We went much further then; we could—and we should—go much further now. In the meantime, TIME’s coverage of the final time we reached for—and seized—the moon provides a reminder of how good such unashamed ambition feels.Article:time.com/3630053/apollo-17-moo…