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One of these days, to the moon

February 11, 2010

It's hard for me to watch all the news and feedback on Obama's plan to cancel the Ares rocket. I get that these are tough times. I get that sometimes private industry does things better. I really hope whoever is in charge of building/designing the replacement launch option is very dedicated about pursuing and completing that project in a timely fashion. I already had bad feelings that with the aging Shuttle program to end this year and the Ares still in development that we'd be going too long without our own launch capabilities. But now it looks like it will be pushed back even further. True the Ares was pricey, and maybe more power than we needed right now. But whatever replaces it is going to take a whole lot of new and expensive research along with starting all over again in the design process.
Well it looks like while the US abandons its space dreams entirely to the private industry (afterall, the banking system worked out okay, right?) Europe is picking up the slack. The ESA's (European Space Agency) SMART-1 launched September 2003(see photo above, credit ESA) to orbit the Moon and look for water, get more complete chemical composition data on the moon, test new technology, and further investigate theories as to the creation of the Moon. It completed its mission when it slammed into the Moon in September 2006. At least one element Americans can get behind, I think pre-emptive military action against the Moon is a pretty good idea. We don't want the Moon people completing their nuclear program, afterall.
The SMART-1 turned in some visually appealing (and I'm sure scientifically gratifying) polar maps and impact analysis. Now the ESA is planning longterm for a lunar lander to be launched into space using, of course, the Soyuz rockets. I'm not sure relying on Putin and a post-soviet space program to keep funding everyone else's launch options is the best we can be doing here. The US, China, India and Japan are all planning orbiters and exploration of Mars and and the Moon in the next decade. But I believe this paragraph to be the most telling:
The Russian Space Agency is developing a draft programme for lunar exploration missions, including manned missions to the Moon. A first mission to the Moon is planned to be launched in 2009, with one of its tasks being the selection of the landing site on the Moon. In 2011 a lander should be launched by an Indian launch vehicle. This should be followed by another two missions to deploy a Moon range (base). After that, manned exploration of the Moon would be possible. This programme shows the willingness of Russia to be part of future exploration endeavours.
The ESA also has this great why explore section. Obama and the US space program could use some ideals in this category. I look forward to being disappointed as free-market enthusiasts defend this plan or pork-hungry senators from space program states fight against it. Seems like nobody gets the big picture here which is that this could very well spell the end of US manned spaceflight. Ask how many scientists were inspired by the Lunar landings or Apollo space program. Tally up the number of technological developments and inventions that occurred as a result of space flight. How far will the US continue to fall in science, engineering and technology as a result of these actions. My only hope is development for the new rocket doesn't become some twenty year program that gets bogged down in lack of funding and politics as we limp by on China's loaned money and Russia's loaned science.
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