Saturday, July 25, 2015

Affordable Return To The Moon To Stay

On Monday, July 20, the 46th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the Moon, I attended a press conference in Washington, DC describing the release of a study commissioned by NASA on how humans can return to the Moon more affordably by means of commercial and international partnerships. The study was conducted by NexGen Space LLC, a consulting company, with the support of the Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society. The full report is available at this link (PDF).

    Panel listens to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin commenting (via phone) on the just released study report on how to affordably return to the Moon to stay.

The report's executive summary summarized the conclusions:
Based on these assumptions, NexGen’s analysis concludes that by using an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that leverages innovative commercial and international partnerships:

• America could return humans to the surface of the Moon within 5-7 years of authority to proceed within NASA’s existing human spaceflight budget, at a cost of about $5 Billion (+/- 20%) for each commercial service provider by using commercial partnership methods.

• America could develop a permanent base on the Moon of 4 astronauts about 10-12 years after first setting foot on the Moon, that provides 200 MT of propellant per year in lunar orbit for NASA, again within NASA’s existing deep space human spaceflight budget and for a total cost of about $40 Billion (+/- 20%).

• A commercial lunar base providing propellant in lunar orbit would reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $10 Billion per year. Such a commercial service would substantially reduce the cost and technical risk of using the Space Launch System (SLS) to send humans to Mars, by reducing the number of SLS launches required from as many as 12 to a total of 3.

• A permanent lunar base operated by commercial industry could substantially, if not completely, pay for itself by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for NASA to send humans to Mars.

The report received wide attention inside the space community and in the general media. Lunar geologist Paul Spudis, a longtime advocate for returning to the Moon, critiqued the study in  this article. Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) has already expressed interest in establishing a lunar "village" through international and commercial partnerships. While running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed establishing a lunar base, which he likely intended to be implemented with a strong commercial partnership approach, similar to what is recommended by this new study report.

This study's approach is not binding on NASA or Congress and may face resistance by some who favor more established ways of implementing large space projects. It does provide a starting point for developing innovative and affordable ways for the United States to maintain a leading role in what is becoming an increasing global enterprise of expanding humanity beyond Earth.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Forty Six Years Ago Today, We Stepped On Another World


Today is the 46th anniversary of the Apollo 11 pioneering expedition to the lunar surface, the day human beings first made landfall on another world. Check out Rand Simberg's ceremonial commemoration of that epic voyage. Here is a brief video capturing highlights of the first two explorers on the Moon.

The Moody Blues were one of the premier rock music bands of that era. They were (and still are) great fans of space travel. Here is a video of highlights of the Apollo lunar expeditions accompanied by the first three songs from their 1969 album To Our Childrens' Childrens' Children, which was the band's celebration of the first human lunar landing.

Today is also the twelfth anniversary ('blogiversary') of the launch of this humble blog. Here is the inaugural post (Note that I was too inexperienced to think of giving it a title.) on Life at the Frontier.

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Horizons' Epic Journey Arrives at Pluto

After a nine-and-a-half year journey following its launch from Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft arrived this week at the system of Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft just a quickly departed but will continue to transmit the treasures of pictures and data it collected for months to come. The few pictures already downlinked and released reveal amazing detail about Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

The mission was developed and operated for NASA by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. To review the mission activities and see continuing updates, check the New Horizons APL web site.

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (77,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

 This annotated view of a portion of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), named for Earth’s first artificial satellite, shows an array of enigmatic features.  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).  Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

I actually had a close encounter with New Horizons a few months before its launch. In September 2005, I was just assigned to the flight safety team for the final Shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. We had some visitors from Johnson Space Center (JSC) in town for meetings and so I was able to tag along as they were given a tour of the giant clean room in Building 29 at Goddard Spaceflight Center to inspect Hubble hardware.

We entered the clean room dressed in "bunny suits" to prevent contamination of sensitive hardware. In the corner near the entrance, there was a modest size spacecraft mostly covered in bright gold insulating material. It was the New Horizons spacecraft, undergoing some tests at Goddard before being launched on its epic voyage to Pluto. As I stood there, tingles went up my spine as I realized that in a few months’ time, this machine just a few feet away from me would be screaming on its way to Pluto, the mysterious little world in the Outer Solar System that fascinated me since childhood.

Now, nearly ten years later, that little spacecraft has accomplished its closest approach to Pluto and its system of moons. Even after transmitting all of its Pluto mission data, the New Horizons mission will not be over. Scientists are already considering a plan to target one or more other Kuiper Belt Objects close enough to New Horizons' trajectory for possible close up examination. There's still a lot out there to explore.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

As It Happened, the Apollo 11 Launch

Forty six years ago this morning, Apollo 11 lifted off on the voyage to land the first men on the Moon. Here's a replay of what it looked like on TV from ~6 min before 'til ~4 min after launch. (The video quality is somewhat degraded from that of the live TV broadcast.) The terse, crisp voice of Jack King (who passed away last month) as Apollo Launch Control added to the drama of the historic countdown. Relive the moment or experience what it was like.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

Stars And Stripes by Junior Libby

As we join in the festivities of the Fourth, let's strive to keep to the values proclaimed in the Declaration that make it worth celebrating.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is a time to be mindful and protective of the full range of personal, religious and economic liberties. Some additional thoughts from around the web remind us of the significance of some words from the second stanza of America the Beautiful and thoughts on the Stars and Stripes from a famous Catholic English writer.
Wow. Think about that line: "by whose stars we are illumined, and by whose stripes we are healed." Have you ever thought about your flag that way - so Christ-like? G. K. Chesterton did. It’s a stirring interpretation of America and its mission.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Personal Rough Times And Prayers

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog. It's been a rough couple of months. My older sister Mary passed away in May after a long illness and then my brother Jack passed suddenly in June. May God grant Mary and Jack eternal rest and comfort to those of us who miss them both dearly. May we meet again in the company of Our Lord.