Space race

India has launched a probe that will orbit the moon. It will also send down the flag of India to join those of the United States, Russia, and Japan.

In the meantime, the American space program, which will soon retire the space shuttle, will depend on Russian spacecraft to take us back and forth from the International Space Station. From The Long Countdown – For U.S. Astronauts, a Russian Second Home –

During the five-year gap after NASA shuts down the space shuttle program in 2010 and the next generation of spacecraft makes its debut by 2015, Russia will have the only ride for humans to the station.

The gap, which was planned by the Bush administration to create the next generation of American spacecraft without significantly increasing NASA’s budget, is controversial. But it is also all but inevitable, because much of the work to shut down the shuttles is under way, and the path to the new Constellation craft would be hard to compress even with additional financing.

Those who work side by side with their Russian counterparts say that strong relationships and mutual respect have resulted from the many years of collaboration. And they say that whatever the broader geopolitical concerns about relying on Russia for space transportation during the five years when the United States cannot get to the space station on its own rockets, they believe that the multinational partnership that built the station will hold.

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  • Carl Vehse

    For years… no, decades, the manned space program has been ridiculed in scientific organization magazines and columns by scientific academia, who saw it as shrinking funds for (their) academica research, and unnecessarily promoting nationalism in a space race with (in their political view) peace-loving Soviets.

    Now the U.S. has been relegated to diplomatically sucking up to the Russians to maintain a role in the space station program.

    Where’s a good Nazi rocket scientist now that we really need him?

  • WRVinovskis

    The current NASA budget is about $17B per year–that’s the ENTIRE budget, not just the shuttle program. Of course, the Iraq war costs about $12B per month ($400M per day). You could build a lot shuttles for that.

  • Joe

    This is an apple and this is an orange.

  • The Jones

    I’m just saying that if you don’t plant your flag on the moon with a human being, it doesn’t count.

  • Kirk

    I agree with Jones. Sending a probe to the moon just give robots more credibility in their claim that they, not humans, are the masters of Earth.

  • Anon

    A civilization which has lost the desire to explore and the curiosity to learn new things, is a dying civilization.

    And we spent the equivalent of what it would take to colonize Mars on the scale of Antarctica several times over bailing out banks this past month.

  • Don S

    I have a good friend that works for Space X, which just successfully launched its first payload-capable rocket. I believe they will be carrying a NASA satellite along with several commercial satellites on their next mission. There are a lot of exciting private-based efforts like this going on. This is the future, and I am glad for it.

  • Anon

    Don, yep, Space X (and some others) are doing good work. I was really happy to see that Falcon flew, and flew well. Space X just might beat NASA to having the capability to transfer crews to and from Fred. (especially with NASA using the stupid Ares design!)

  • allen

    An Age of Discovery is definitely in order. India will be on Mars while we’re still fixating on real estate development.

  • Anon

    We are going to have to dismantle NASA to save it. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

  • Carl Vehse

    A trip to Mars will require the astronauts to voluntarily live in a very confined space under extremely harsh and physically dangerous conditions for several years before they could return to their home and loved ones, knowing that any number of circumstances outside their control could result in death, and that the conditions of their confinement could result in later or longterm medical problems.

    What American would be willing and have the courage to train for a mission like this, which would entail such risks and deprivations….

    Yeah, like one person running for President right now.

  • Anon

    Carl, you’d get over a million volunteers if you asked for them. Conditions would not be worse than in a submarine. Or on Mir or Fred, where similar times have been lived out.

    A Mars vehicle could easily have inflatable housing extensions. Prototypes have been tested in space with good results. A VASMiR engine could get the crew to Mars in 30 days, not six months. Staying on Mars, exploring in the great out of doors for a year or two would result in a similar 30 day return trip. The result would be less confinement than on either Mir or Fred.

    The radiation problems are solved in-flight with a water jacket around the core module. This can also be used as reaction mass for the VASMiR engine. On the surface, if we land in one of the regions that *do* have substantial magnetic fields, we are good, too. In the areas without a substantial field, piling terra cotta (regolith dust plus water, plus heat) or rock around the main tube or dome living quarters would be sufficient.

    Mars has been doable for decades now. The original plan was to get there in 1983. Saturn technology was sufficient.

  • Carl Vehse

    A suitable VASMIR engine (not to mention warp drive) does not yet exist. The 30-day trip is for the theoretically optimum VASMIR, not one that is currently in the research lab stage, which would take 3-5 months of travel time if it even could be used.

    A trip to Mars, unlike the space station and shuttle flights will be outside the Van Allen belt, and expose astronauts to unshielded cosmic rays and solar flares, unless the added weight of shielding were included for the travel. The moon trips were relatively short so that the radiation exposure was not an unacceptable risk.

    Mars has a very weak magnetosphere, one that will not to protect astronauts remaining on the Martian surface for a year. Plans for preparing an underground shelter would be necessary for long-term stays. Finding or constructing such an underground facility would have to be done soon after landing all necessary construction equipment on Mars.

    A submarine has a lot more people, facilities, and accessibility than a spaceship to Mars, though a submarine sized spaceship would be desirable.

    A trip to Mars has not been doable for decades (in the sense of any meaningful probability of success), except in basic space research funding proposals and sci-fi movies. Chemical rockets to Mars are out. The nuclear rocket research in the early 60s was stopped before it could be perfected. Orion? (treaty problems just for starters) And ion drive has just been demonstrated in the last few years as a useful propulsion system for satellites, but not yet for heavy interplanetary spaceships.

    Ultimately, a Mars trip will be done, of course. It will probably be a group of two or three separate nuclear-powered spaceships each taking along multiple landing/takeoff vehicles for Mars. The trip to/from Mars will take approximately 3 months (during a low solar cycle) and the stay will be for at least a year.

    As for a million volunteers? Maybe not so many for a former astronaut’s latest idea, Mars pioneers should stay there permanently, says Buzz Aldrin:

    In an interview with AFP, the second man to set foot on the Moon said the Red Planet offered far greater potential than Earth’s satellite as a place for habitation.

    The distance between the Red Planet and Earth varies between 55 million (34 million miles) and more than 400 million kms (250 million miles).

    Even at the most favourable planetary conjunction, this means a round trip to Mars would take around a year and a half.

    “That’s why you [should] send people there permanently,” said Aldrin. “If we are not willing to do that, then I don’t think we should just go once and have the expense of doing that and then stop.”

    He asked: “If we are going to put a few people down there and ensure their appropriate safety, would you then go through all that trouble and then bring them back immediately, after a year, a year and a half?”

    They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don’t look forward to go back home again after a couple a years,” he said.

    “At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, who knows what advances have taken place. They can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back.”

    Bringing a person back who has spent decades on Mars, would be like requiring an older person to carry around an additional one and a half times their body weight for their heart, lungs, bones, and muscles to support. They would not last long (not that their social security would be worth anything by then).