Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=99245
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 8:10:13 AM CST
WASHINGTON – With banners honoring the great explorers Magellan, Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci as a backdrop, NASA officials Thursday unveiled its latest designs for the Ares V rocket and Altair moon lander.
The vehicles will be part of NASA’s plan to meet President Bush’s space exploration goal: to return to the moon by 2020 with a bigger vision of going to Mars. The last U.S. visit to the moon was in 1972.
The moon trip is important, according to Ray Colladay, chairman of the Aeronautical and Space Engineering Board of the National Research Council. He called it the appropriate first step for the larger vision.
“Now is the time to go back there and have a useful presence on the moon,” Colladay said. “It is like walking before you run.”
The missions to the moon and beyond are part of NASA’s Constellation program, which incorporates two launch vehicles – the Ares I and Ares V, a crew module named Orion and the Altair Moon lander. The vehicles would have the ability to sustain a crew of four on the surface of the moon for up to seven days.
The plan is to build a more permanent installation on the moon’s surface that could be visited similar to the International Space Station.
“[The Apollo mission] was important for the country,” Colladay said, “but we didn’t leave any infrastructure behind. We didn’t get any sustained benefit.”
Speaking at the vehicle design unveiling at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s International Hall of Flags, David Logsdon, executive director of the chamber’s Space Enterprise Council, said he is convinced the mission is necessary to restore U.S. dominance of the high-tech industry and rebuild the nation’s economy.
“You were inspired by the Apollo program and that’s why you got into the space industry,” Logsdon said, addressing the gathered industry representatives. “We need to inspire the next generation.”
NASA needs the development of this system to succeed. The space shuttle is being retired at the end of 2010 and the Ares I and Orion are not expected to be operational until 2015. Late Tuesday night, the House passed a waiver that clears the way for the U.S. to contract Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the interim.
“We have a commitment to operating capability of March 2015 and that hasn’t changed,” said Doug Cooke, deputy associate director for space exploration at NASA.
Cooke noted at the latest design review, the teams working on the Ares I and Orion vehicles were able to address open concerns. Several engineering problems still are open but all are considered solvable.
But returning to the moon is still a long time in the future. Even meeting all deadlines, NASA’s most recent estimate for just a test launch of the Ares V system wouldn’t be until 2018.
Still, hope within the NASA community for the success of the program beyond just the moon remains strong.
“50 years from now, I want to be back in this room and see a flag of an American explorer, dedicated to an outpost on Mars,” Logsdon said.