|NASA has released a new plan to bring humans back to the Moon and explore the depths of space. The agency unveiled plans for new methods of transporting astronauts to the Moon and beyond. Is this new plan the best option for the United States? |
America's next generation spacecraft will use an improved, blunt-body crew capsule. It can be configured either to support human explorers or fly unpiloted to carry cargo. Its design allows the flexibility to ferry crews of three astronauts and additional supplies to and from the International Space Station, take four crew members to lunar orbit, and eventually maintain up to six astronauts on a mission to Mars.
"This spacecraft and its systems will build upon the foundation of the proven designs and technologies used in the Apollo and space shuttle programs, while having far greater capability," said NASA administrator Michael Griffin. "It will be able to carry larger and heavier cargos into space and allow more people to stay on the moon for longer periods of time."
Crews and cargo will be carried into orbit by a space shuttle-derived launch system, consisting of a solid rocket booster and an upper stage powered by a shuttle main engine that can lift 25 metric tons. The spacecraft also will be 10 times safer than the Space Shuttle because of its in-line design and launch-abort system.
The study also lays out NASA’s deliberate, milestone-driven journey to the Moon. Returning to the Moon and sustaining a presence there will demonstrate humans can survive on another world and will build confidence that astronauts can venture still farther into space and stay for longer periods. The journey will start with robotic missions between 2008 and 2011 to study, map, and learn about the lunar surface. These early missions will help determine lunar landing sites and whether resources, such as oxygen, hydrogen and metals, are available for use in NASA's long-term lunar exploration objectives.
But some are concerned about the new plan. The $104 billion price tag is daunting, and opponents believe this money would be better used to rebuild after the hurricanes that hit the Gulf coast this fall. Others are hung up on the timeline of the project. Even robotic missions wouldn’t reach the Moon until 2008 at the earliest. In addition, the Shuttle program is scheduled to retire in 2010, and the new vehicle won’t be ready for human flight until 2012.
What is your opinion? Is NASA’s plan worth spending that much money? Should the creation of a new generation vehicle be completed faster or slower, or is the timeline just about right? Share your thoughts in the Opinion Corner.
|Four astronauts could land on the Moon in the new NASA lander. Artist concept by John Frassanito and Associates, courtesy NASA.|
|New NASA crew exploration vehicle in lunar orbit. Artist concept by John Frassanito and Associates, courtesy NASA.|