Monday, December 04, 2006

NASA's Lunar Plans

The AP reported today that NASA has plans. Big plans. They're going back to the moon. Of course, it isn't completely NASA's doing.

In the wake of the space shuttle Columbia accident, President Bush announced in 2004 a plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. His plan would take 16 years, twice as long as NASA's first trip to the moon took in planning.

As the Washington Post reported today, it's the law.

It's an ambitious, almost Star Trek-like vision, one that has ardent supporters and vocal detractors. But to a degree generally unappreciated by the public, it is the law of the land, since Congress adopted the president's moon-Mars proposal last year. And it is moving forward: NASA will publicly outline today its exploration strategy for the planned lunar missions.

That strategy will be different from the Apollo missions.

NASA announced Monday it will establish an international base camp on one of the moon's poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts return to the moon.

NASA chose a "lunar outpost" over the short expeditions of the '60s. Apollo flights were all around the center of the moon, but NASA decided to go to the moon's poles because they are best for longer- term settlements. And this time NASA is welcoming other nations on its journey.

The more likely of the two lunar destinations is the moon's south pole because it's sunlit for three-quarters of the time, making solar power easier, and has possible resources to mine in dark areas nearby, said associate deputy administrator Doug Cooke.

The polar choice is interesting, in light of the NASA Science News email I got over the weekend. They've been tracking the locations of meteor strikes on the moon's surface. These hit during the past year:

"The flashes we saw [November 17] were caused by Leonid meteoroids 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) in diameter," says Cooke. "They hit with energies between 0.3 and 0.6 Giga-Joules." In plain language, that's 150 to 300 pounds of TNT.

How do you get so much energy out of a 3-inch meteoroid? "Leonids travel fast—about 144,000 mph," he explains. "At that speed, even a 3-inch rock packs tremendous energy."

And that's a concern for NASA as they plan for a moon base. Not only will their camp have to be able to sustain life, it will also have to be able to withstand the impact of meteors that don't have an atmosphere to burn them up before the strike.

They've got until 2020 to figure it all out.


Jacob said...

Like many of Bush's proposed ventures into volatile territory, my question in response is 'why?'

That man boggles the mind sometimes.

SkyePuppy said...

Ah, but no less a personage than Stephen Hawking says we need to start working on colonizing other planets, considering how hell-bent we are on destroying this one. President Bush is right in line with Hawking.

Jacob said...

I can sort of understand the logic behind colonising other planets, but the moon? Not exactly fertile and life-giving like Earth, is it?

The moon = Huge pointless rock that makes the ocean move around a bit.

SkyePuppy said...


Moon = close enough to work out the base camp concept.

Also they're talking about mining. Hopefully, the environmentalists won't complain if we dig up the moon.