Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Been there done that , now we've lost the map..

(A warning to the political junkies in our midst. This post has nothing to do with NZ politics which, to be frank, currently bores me rigid.)

Now I have been interested in space exploration since I was about 5 years old and can remember sitting up with my Dad listening to liftoffs of Gemini missions on the Voice of America short wave service.

I also recall the excitement as a 9 year old of listening to man's first moments on the moon, and the drama of the Apollo 13 recovery. All stirring stuff indeed.
So it was with interest that I read last week that NASA has sent two probes to the moon as part of their new program to return men to our satellite by 2020 which GWB announced in 2004.

2020? WTF??

In 1961 after only two manned suborbital flights, JFK committed the US to that marvellous goal of "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth before the end of the decade", and as we know in 1969 this was achieved.

Eight and a bit years is all it took. All they had to do it with was Werhner von Braun's V2 knowledge, their own PhDs armed with slide rules and log tables, and no computers with any more power than the average cellphone of today.

By today's standards they knew bugger all about the environment in space, orbital mechanics was a science very much in its infancy, and they didn't even know if the lunar surface could support the weight of a space craft.
Yet NASA essentially started from scratch and went on to get the job done. Sure there were tragedies along the way. Lives were lost, notably the crew of Apollo 1, near misses were a regular occurence, Gemini 8 and Mercury Redstone 4 spring to mind, and equipment failed with monotonous regularity but the goal was met despite the cost.

So why will it take the same agency 16 years to repeat the performance??

This question is even more pertinent when one realises that NASA are not going to be using some new propulsion system or a craft that resembles the USS Enterpise. The vehicle they have in mind, the Orion, is simply a scaled up, and souped up version of Apollo.

The computers of today which will be used for engineering design and onboard stuff are many degrees of magnitude ahead of their sixties ancestors and our experience in space time is now measured in thousands of man hours but we still have to allow double the time to achieve the same goal?





Socrates said...

Because we never got to the moon in 1969... The Sixties space progrsam was a great big have :-)

O your serious.. I don't know... Why does it seem to take 4 times as long to build a highrise and three times the cost? Increased safety leads to more cost and time? Has increased safety awareness meant reduced accidents/deaths? Don't know myself...

Grant said...

Hi Socrates. Thanks for the comment. Your second paragraph is close to mwhere my thought are leading me.

Anonymous said...

The cost was colossal, the money is just not there anymore so it will take far longer to get the money needed this time round.

Oswald Bastable said...

Two words:

Political will.

That is why.

KG said...

The bureaucrats and bean counters now rule the engineers.
And an obsession with safety rules them all.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall some comment about establishing a base there for launching further space probes...Can't remember source though.

Mr Dennis said...

They probably need 8 years to fill in the forms, then another 8 years to do it.

But frankly I can't really see the point, it's just an expensive publicity stunt to make the American people think they are superior because they can shoot men to the moon, rather than solving the real problems they have at home. I'm glad we won't be paying for it.

Anonymous said...

UFOs. They don't want us up there. They were there first. As long as we stick to Earth they'll leave us alone. Otherwise we'd be living on the moon by now.

Psycho Milt said...'s just an expensive publicity stunt to make the American people think they are superior because they can shoot men to the moon, rather than solving the real problems they have at home.

But they were saying that the first time around too. Gil Scott Heron was sneering about "Whitey on the moon" ca 1970:

I can't pay no doctor's bill
But Whitey's on the moon

Anonymous said...

And if one wants to get even more depressed read the following about the whole Ares effort.

Note that it also contains the now obligatory shot at useless traditional journalists; embarrassing all round.

Tom Hunter