(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.
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?
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