Saturday, March 04, 2006

More Than 30 Years Later, This Is All We've Improved?

I'm disappointed in this "return to the moon" plan by NASA. Haven't we progressed yet to the point where we can actually land a real ship on the moon?

Apparently not.

NASA likens this program to "Apollo on steroids." And that's all it is. Take Apollo, make it a little bigger, and add some more modern technology. I guess I just expected more.

Update, 3/7/06: I know this wasn't designed to go to the moon, but it is more like what I had in mind. A real ship.


Old Math said...

There is a reason why the Apollo approach to a moon mission and this updated version are the way to go (assuming you want to go) - it is the same reason why rockets are build in stages.

The reason is the "rocket equation" (see The key part of the equation is the mass ratio, the ratio of the starting to ending mass. You want to get rid of as much mass as possible along the way, so you have a large first stage, a smaller second stage, etc. The exit velocity is fixed by chemistry and the Apollo rockets used LOX/LH2, the only way to get a more energetic motor is using Fluorine which is amazingly nasty stuff.

The reasons we don't have a Star Wars type space ship are fundamental limitations in physics and chemistry. There have been no breakthroughs in those areas in the last 40 years. But notice there have been breakthroughs in control systems and NASA proposes to take advantages of those improvements.

Having said all that there is the question of why go back to the moon with human crew? Other than the perpetuation of NASA, a prime example of a bloated government bureaucracy, I haven't head many good answers.

Last time there was a call for a "real ship" we got the space shuttle, which has spent its entire span of existence trying to find a single mission that could not have been done with less risk and less money with staged rocket technology.

Darren said...

I understand and agree with what you said but want to emphasize one counterpoint. The reason we don't have "cool" ships to go to the moon is *not* fundamental limitations in chemistry and physics, it's because there *hasn't* been a breakthrough in those areas in the last 40 years.

Wulf said...

Darren, when you say "a real ship", what exactly do you mean?

I talked a little about the NASA plan
last month
, and it really sparked some good conversation with my friends who are scientists and engineers, including one who works for NASA. The question was posed, Why will it take so long if we are just using re-tooled Apollo components? And why would we use technologies that are essentially 40 years old, or more?

The answer, really, is exactly what you have already said. The technological breakthroughs we have seen since 1969 have been mostly computing, not rocketry. Interestingly, if/ when the mission to Mars is successful, it will be with methane-based rocket fuel, which will allow the mission to refuel on Mars. Now that's exciting!

Darren said...

The Mars deal sounds interesting.

But the moon--heck, I can see it. I can almost throw a stone to it (or so it seems). You'd think we'd have a better way of getting there than this. Hell, when Apollo was first being planned after Kennedy's speech, there were plans/ideas for an upright, 1950s sci-fi-looking rocket! And 40 years later, Apollo Redux is all we get.

It's just disappointing.