Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NASA and the next generation of space travel

It could take us to Mars.  Or so they say.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) was showcased at NASA recently.  The spacecraft will have its first unmanned flight in 2014 and is slated to carry crews to the Moon and Mars.

As for human-crewed flight, well that's further off.  Of course it is?  Why wouldn't it be?
The estimated first Orion flight for humans is 2021.  A great deal of other technology is coming together in the meantime, developments that will learn from the lessons of Apollo.  For example, one issue with Moon exploration was the dust and grit that weaseled its way into space suits and gear.  An electrode coil in the astronaut's suit may be the answer to that annoyance. 

At the same time, a new lunar rover called RESOLVE is under development.  It has even undergone "test drives" over lava beds in Hawaii.   Another new rover design has a different feature from previous incarnations in that it is meant to drill into planetary material called "regolith." It is hoped that the resources necessary to sustain a lunar or martian base, elements such as hydrogen, could be found on site.

Good, I suppose, but not terribly exciting.  I suppose a bit of my "meh" response is the fact that we should never have left the Moon.  The Apollo program should never have ended.  We should be on Mars by now.  So on and so forth. 

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to NASA has been political correctness.  Space exploration and scientific research in space just doesn't fit the mold of utilitarianism anymore.  Therefore, the cost cannot be justified.  Defense, on the other hand, is an utterly sacred and any cost is justified.  What?  Nuclear-powered engines for spacecraft?  Utterly unthinkable.

And then apathy set in.

Moaning and groaning aside, I'm glad something is being done.  Perhaps Chinese ambitions in space have reignited the sense of competition that Americans apparently need to have in order to do something.  Will Orion work?  Will it get us back to the Moon let alone Mars?

Here's to hoping.

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