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One of these days, Alice...

NASA's current plans call for a return to the moon with Orion 15, tentatively scheduled for June, 2019.

Whatever happened to being able to put a man on the moon in under a decade?



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Feb. 14th, 2008 08:22 am (UTC)

Under a ``waste anything but time'' mandate, yeah, you can speed things up a touch. But there are trade-offs: the budget requirements killed off pretty near every other project not convincingly related to the lunar landing missions, and even lunar science operations were reduced to scouting missions for Apollo. The system designed was hugely optimized to very short landing missions, so that really excessively risky gimmicks were required just for the three-day, three-EVA lunar missions. For example, the fuel reserve for the nominal mission for the later flights was technically speaking negative (as certain mission points were reached, fuel required for contingencies was freed up to the ``nominal mission'' budget and so a safety margin was created along the way). That's a clearly insane mission plan justified only by rushing.

And then in trade the Apollo capsule designed was not a satisfying fit for its Earth-orbit missions: it couldn't be launched with full fuel reserves on the Saturn I-B booster, even for the Skylab or Apollo-Soyuz missions where fuel reserve or higher orbits would have practical value. (And again the budget constraints were crippling to both missions: Apollo-Soyuz was unable to use the newer model Service Modules with earth-observing sensors in the new sensor bay, because there was no money for that.)

Also crippling to Apollo's continuing operations and to Shuttle's operations was the rush to build something, without the necessary cycles of design, testing, re-design, re-testing, and so on, until better techniques for everything from the heat shield to the computers could be developed. There's no guarantee that the Orion is going to take advantage of the time to make a better design, but without the time they certainly can't.

Feb. 14th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
the budget requirements killed off pretty near every other project not convincingly related to the lunar landing missions

No, not really. "Nearly" perhaps, but there was still one other very important space program going on:
The Pioneer program was concurrent with the Apollo program.

However the Orion missions, on the other hand, just might do what you say, and not just nearly but almost completely. The Europa Orbiter that was originally going to be launched this year has been canceled. There is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter scheduled for later this year (which arguably is just part of the planned lunar missions). There is next year's Mars Scientific Laboratory. And then there is the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter scheduled for 2015 (which leaves plenty of time for it to be canceled too ;p). But that's about it for exploring the rest of the solar system...

Yet another thing they could do back then that they can't seem to do now - have a series of robotic probes doing space exploration at the same time as having manned missions for the same purpose (shuttles don't count as space "exploration").
Feb. 14th, 2008 07:14 pm (UTC)

I said near and meant it. Pioneer was lovely, but -- for example -- lost to the Apollo Budget Rush were projects like the original Voyager missions (unrelated to the gas giant probes): massive, impressive probes for Venus and Mars which would have included multiple landers from a single probe with as many as ten landing sites on Mars alone were lost to the need for money to Get Apollo There Fast. And collateral damage wiped out smaller but still worthwhile projects like Mariner-Mars 69.

And such lunar science programs as Surveyor were basically reduced from what they might be to scouting expeditions for Apollo. (And then after the handful of landing missions, NASA effectively ignored the Moon for three decades, since, after all, they'd gotten enough attention and there was a whole rest of the solar system to look at.)

Incidentally, there's far more robotic exploration going on now than there was in the 1960s, producing much higher-quality data and actual orbital missions rather than quick flybys yielding a couple dozen pictures. I know if I were a planetary scientist which era I'd want to live in, and it's this one.

You can go on at almost infinite length about things being done wrong in NASA management of programs, and -- frankly -- I don't believe that Orion is ever going to land on the Moon. But that's not because they haven't set a near enough deadline; it's because I don't believe they have the organizational capacity to run this project on any deadline.

Feb. 14th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
The first test of an Orion component, the Launch Escape System, is scheduled for Septemberish of this year. The amount of delay in performing the pad abort test will give a good indication of just how badly delayed the rest of the project will be.
Feb. 15th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
OK, but I think they do have the organizational capacity to go to the Moon - because they've done it before. :-P Funding is the issue.

I don't know if I'd want to be a planetary scientist NOW unless I was set to retire soon; maybe the past 5-10 years would have been a good time and maybe that could continue for another year or two, but looking forward, it is not good. Orion is going to sink a lot of projects that would have otherwise gone ahead.
Feb. 14th, 2008 08:44 am (UTC)
Doing it on the cheap I suspect, or perhaps spending a similar amount but spreading it out over a longer period to make it more politically palatable.
Feb. 14th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
Well if they hold off until 2019 they don't have to bring as many supplies. There will be a Chinese restaurant to eat at.
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