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“We” are going to the Moon - Part 1

Published by Rob on Wed Sep 19, 2007 11:25 am
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As we progress into the new century the Moon seems to be at the forefront of imaginations everywhere. Our local neighbour has been described by NASA as “a stepping stone to Mars and beyond”. Research is progressing around the globe to study the Moon, the environment and possible possibilities for habitation.

When President George W. Bush announced his Vision for Space Exploration and gave NASA the goal of returning to the moon to stay, he invited other countries to participate.

“The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, and I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.”

If people are responding to George Bush remains to be seen however there does seem to be a growing interest in the Moon again. However this interest is not just amongst government agencies.

Perhaps the most important question that is being asked is are we staying this time?
Perhaps it is important to see if we can stay. Can it be habitable and what are the reasons for going.

Looking back at the Apollo missions the last mission returned to Earth December 19, 1972. The missions were costly and were more a tool of competing in the Cold-War than a way of colonising the universe.

It was only a few years before (Summer 1968) that program managers had found the LM would not be available for Apollo 8 so it went around the moon over Christmas. John F. Kennedy had only made his speech September 12, 1962, ten years before the final Apollo manned mission. Slightly different To George Bush’s Kennedy said those famous words.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”

The new Google Lunar X-Prize has again helped put the Moon back into the spotlight. Sending rovers along the surface is difficult, getting on the Moon is hard, getting to the Moon out of Earth Orbit is something difficult on its own merit. So can it be done?

Future proposed Government unmanned missions include:
China – Chang’e 1 – Launch: October 2007
India – Chandrayaan – Launch: April 2008
USA – Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – Launch: October 2008
India - Chandrayaan II – Launch: 2010 or 2011
Russia – Luna-Glob – Launch: 2012

This time the race is not two countries, China, India and ESA are all getting ready to explore the Moon. In fact five Government agencies have plans for manned landings. Perhaps in 2012 it won’t just be Russia in this list, perhaps it won’t be a country at all just perhaps it may be an organisation a company or a group of people.

USA - Project Constellation: Human mission by 2018
ESA – Aurora Programme: Human mission before 2024
China – : Human mission by 2024
Russia - Human mission by 2025
Japan – Human mission by around 2020

The new X-Prize has offered $20million USD to the winners. The date has been set December 31st 2012. So can it be done in five years? Will it make economic sense? All this is yet to be seen.

Looking at recent lunar missions, the Lunar Prospector mission was the third mission selected by NASA for full development and construction as part of NASA’s Discovery Program.
Total cost for the mission was $62.8 million including:

Development ($34 million)
Launch vehicle (~$25 million)
Operations (~$4 million)

Even looking at craft that have been put into Lunar Orbit the Lunar Prospector had some massive costs. It could be argued that NASA aren’t the best practical spenders though, and perhaps this is amongst the reasons why the private industry might just find a way to do it more efficiently, more creative and more innovative.

Even if the prize is not claimed I think there is a lot to be taken from it. Perhaps we will find cheaper ways of working more productively. Perhaps the media attention and the interest in the area is enough to spur another generation to try again.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”

The date has been set December 31st 2012.

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