Archive for February, 2010

Trading the Moon for Mars

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Obama’s NASA budget has our space priorities right.

In January, President Obama announced a new budget for NASA that would, newspaper headlines screamed, “Eliminate Funds for Manned Missions to the Moon.” Instead, the budget proposes new missions in near-Earth orbit. It also directly challenges and empowers the private sector to push the envelope of human space travel, and implicitly puts America on track to perfect life support and other technologies that can be tested closer to home before embarking on more distant destinations in space.

Many said the president’s decision was misguided, short-sighted and disappointing. Having the experience of walking on the moon’s surface on the Apollo 11 …

You can read the complete article at the Wall Street Journal.

Spaceships Worthy of the Name

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

In this blog I’m going to talk about what NASA needs to do once Congress has passed President Obama’s new budget that starts on October 1st. Although I spent most of last year speaking about these concepts, they may be new to some readers – and they have even greater significance now that the space program is poised to make a great, and I believe necessary, transition. My ideas, if followed, would assure America of global space leadership for many years to come. And equally cool is the fact that to develop them won’t break the already near-empty national budget.

First, is the idea of what type of commercial crew-carrying vehicle should follow the Space Shuttle. Next is why we should extend the life of the Shuttle program for a small number of additional flights. And last, what those Shuttles should carry up to the International Space Station – a true spacecraft that would live only in space.

Right now, NASA is hoping to spend about a billion dollars each year beginning next October to speed the development of a new fleet of all-commercial spaceships that would act as space taxis. These machines would take American astronauts and others bound for the orbiting station, but also serve as a vehicle for the repeated use of researchers and experimenters. I’m urging NASA to foster the development of what I call runway landers. No, that’s not the name of a high stakes gambler from Vegas. It’s a type of spacecraft that flies to orbit like the retiring Shuttles but then glides to a landing like an airplane on a runway. Just like the Shuttles do.

My reasoning is if these new spacecraft are to be true space taxis, then returning their human crew and perhaps research experiments quickly is essential. Landing in the ocean and waiting for the navy to come alongside and haul you out of the drink is what space capsules require. And after the capsule is recovered, it would take weeks for the ship to return to port. The astronauts might be flown home earlier by helicopter, but the cargo, and the capsule, will still be waiting long after the flight has faded from the business news web sites. This is just ridiculous, and no way to foster a true commercial space industry.

As someone who flew two space capsules and twice landed in the ocean, I can attest from personal experience how much logistics work is needed to get you home. This is no way to treat a spaceship — making it become a boat at the end of the flight? By comparison landing on a runway in the heart of a military or civilian airport or specially constructed spaceport would speed the retrieval and replacement of the cargo and crew. If that landing site is also the launching site, and the ship is fully reusable, then it can be mated to a new booster and readied for flight in a few weeks. This is exactly what we have learned flying the Shuttle for the last 30 years.

And, speaking of the Space Shuttle, why are we retiring it before the replacement vehicle is available? Makes no sense to me when there are enough parts to fly the Shuttles for other two, three or four flights, say. By stretching out the remaining handful of flights, we can close the infamous space flight “gap” that looms ahead between Shuttle retirement and first flights of the new commercial craft. Why should American’s hard-earned taxpayer dollars go to Russia to buy flights on their Soyuz rockets, as is the current plan? Would it not be a better and more sensible thing to use that money to extend – only briefly – the life of the Shuttle?

Speaking of which, in the current debate, folks have seemed to forget that if we need a heavy lift booster to haul large payloads up to orbit, we already have one now-it’s called the Space Shuttle. And I have a mission in mind for these handful of extra flights.

In storage at Marshall Spaceflight Center, and elsewhere around the country are spacecraft components from which we can build a true spaceship, one worthy of the name. I’ve called the Exploration Module, or XM. This vehicle, lifted up to orbit aboard the Space Shuttle in its final missions, would be a true spacecraft that lives only in space. Just like the Lunar Module Eagle that Neil Armstrong and I rode down to the moon’s surface during our Apollo 11 flight. Once docked to the International Space Station, astronaut crews could practice and train for future deep space missions, to encounter asteroids say, or the moons of Mars.

If the XM was shielded and connected with a spacecraft like the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle or some other return-to-Earth craft, once tested at the space station, we could take it out for a spin, say cycling between the Earth and the moon. My concept for a cycling spaceship, now universally called the Aldrin cycler, could be fashioned out of the XM. All we’d need would be a rocket to attach to it, maybe like the Centaur liquid hydrogen upper stage flown many times aboard many different launchers – and managed by Ohio’s Glenn Research Center.

Consider what I’m proposing: commercial vehicles fly from the surface of the Earth to the station. Their destination – the XM, is built from existing hardware and managed by say the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The spaceship’s propulsion and life support system could be managed by Huntsville’s Marshall Spaceflight Center. And everything is assembled, tested and launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Commercial providers do what they do best – flying people and cargo from Earth. NASA does what it does best – build deep space vehicles – and there is sufficient work to keep all of the existing Project Constellation centers humming along.

As someone once said, “Mission Accomplished!”

Published in The Huffington Post. Read the original.

Aldrin: ‘Mars is the Next Frontier for Humankind’

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

This certainly isn’t a surprise, considering Buzz Aldrin has been advocating manned missions to destinations other than the moon for some time, but it’s certainly worth hearing what the second man on the moon has to say about today’s announcement about NASA’s shake-up.

In a nutshell, Aldrin supports President Obama’s revised vision for NASA space exploration. This means canceling a return trip to the lunar surface and concentrating on other destinations first, pushing the envelope of human endeavor.

Here’s the full text of Aldrin’s press release (via The Office of Science and Technology Policy):

Statement from Buzz Aldrin: A New Direction in Space

Today I wish to endorse strongly the President’s new direction for NASA. As an Apollo astronaut, I know the importance of always pushing new frontiers as we explore space. The truth is, that we have already been to the Moon – some 40 years ago. A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our Nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century. We need to be in this for the long haul, and this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth. I hope NASA will embrace this new direction as much as I do, and help us all continue to use space exploration to drive prosperity and innovation right here on Earth.

I also believe the steps we will be taking following the President’s direction will best position NASA and other space agencies to send humans to Mars and other exciting destinations as quickly as possible. To do that, we will need to support many types of game-changing technologies NASA and its partners will be developing. Mars is the next frontier for humankind, and NASA will be leading the way there if we aggressively support the President’s plans.

Finally, I am excited to think that the development of commercial capabilities to send humans into low earth orbit will likely result in so many more earthlings being able to experience the transformative power of spaceflight. I can personally attest to the fact that the experience results in a different perspective on life on Earth, and on our future as a species. I applaud the President for working to make this dream a reality.

Buzz Aldrin

Feb. 1, 2010

[Full text PDF can be downloaded from the OSTP.gov website]

I personally agree with many of his points, especially the part about “pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth.” However, I’m dubious as to when this new and invigorated vision for NASA is going to take shape.

Scrapping the Constellation Program (or a large portion of it) is one thing, developing a more realistic replacement is quite another. I suppose we’ll have to remain patient to see how Congress reacts to the White House’s new vision before we can start over-analyzing the future of manned exploration of the solar system.

What do you think? Is Buzz’s enthusiasm on the money? Or do you think it’s misplaced? Canceling a 9 billion dollar program just to start over may sound wasteful, but will a fresh look at this challenging issue stimulate not only NASA but develop an exciting prospect for commercialized spaceflight?

You can read the original article at discovery.com

Statement from Buzz Aldrin: A New Direction in Space

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

This statement was presented to the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy:

Today I wish to endorse strongly the President’s new direction for NASA. As an Apollo astronaut, I know the importance of always pushing new frontiers as we explore space. The truth is, that we have already been to the Moon—some 40 years ago. A near-term focus on lowering the cost of access to space and on developing key, cutting-edge technologies to take us further, faster, is just what our Nation needs to maintain its position as the leader in space exploration for the rest of this century.

We need to be in this for the long haul, and this program will allow us to again be pushing the boundaries to achieve new and challenging things beyond Earth. I hope NASA will embrace this new direction as much as I do, and help us all continue to use space exploration to drive prosperity and innovation right here on Earth.

I also believe the steps we will be taking following the President’s direction will best position NASA and other space agencies to send humans to Mars and other exciting destinations as quickly as possible. To do that, we will need to support many types of game-changing technologies NASA and its partners will be developing. Mars is the next frontier for humankind, and NASA will be leading the way there if we aggressively support the President’s plans.

Finally, I am excited to think that the development of commercial capabilities to send humans into low-Earth orbit will likely result in so many more Earthlings being able to experience the transformative power of spaceflight. I can personally attest to the fact that the experience results in a different perspective on life on Earth, and on our future as a species. I applaud the President for working to make this dream a reality.

Buzz Aldrin
Feb. 1, 2010

PDF: Statement from Buzz Aldrin





Limited Edition Buzz Aldrin Acme Pen

Monday, February 1st, 2010

AVAILABLE HERE!

Each pen comes packaged in a custom printed Buzz Aldrin presentation box and includes one roller ball refill.

The pen has a custom laser engraved limited edition number on the back of each pens mid ring.

The pen is limited to a run of 1,969 units in commemoration of the anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Rollerball pens from ACME Studios are well-balanced and feature all metal construction. Colors are hand applied, by silk screen method using the finest lacquers available, applied over a brass barrel.

The pens use German manufactured Schmidt fine point, non-drying ink refills. The roller ball is supplied with an ACME 888 roller ball refill, made by Schmidt.

A small bio card is attached to the pen, providing biographical information about the pen’s designer. Pen measures 5 3/8” long.