Designing America's Return to the Moon - Part Two

Saturday, August 26 2006 @ 07:00 am EDT

Contributed by: bobmoody

UPDATE: Lockheed Martin Corp. has won the contract to build the new crew vehicle for man's return to the moon. Click on the company's name to go directly to the Constellation website. New high-resolution images are clickable at the end of the first section of this story.

We are considerably more adept at building rockets now than we were in the 1960's when we put the first man on the moon. Will it be any easier, cheaper, or safer when we return to the moon again? I'm betting it will be!

An artist's depiction of America's next generation of rockets are being designed for a return to the moon with manned missions. Their new names will reflect a little homage to the Apollo program. Top: The new Crew Launch Vevicle, recently designated as Ares I. Bottom: The new heavy-lift Cargo Launch Vehicle to be known as the Ares V.
Heeere we go! At least we're hoping so. America's least science-friendly President wants America to return to the moon, but this time it won't just be for a short stay of a couple of days. When we do finally return to the moon, we'll be setting up shop, so-to-speak, so that we'll wind up with a bona-fide, long-term, manned moon base.

And its about time, too, at least in my mind. Cutting the Apollo missions of the 1970's put the brakes on a space science program that was providing huge amounts of information on how to travel safely, navigate and live in space, as well as revealing hints on the formation of how the moon itself came to be. From the materials returned to us by our Apollo program, we now believe that our moon was formed when the early Earth was impacted by a huge planetoid, something nearly the size of Mars.

That glancing blow added a small amount of mass to our young Earth's original size, but the "splash" material from what was flung off during the impact gave us our moon. That material slowly coalesed as the moon, which at that early time was only orbitting a mere 40,000 miles away, about 5-6 times closer than it is now.

That knowledge aside, the government bureaurocrats had little trouble in convincing the American public that since we had beaten the Russians to the moon in the Apollo era, there was no reason to continue pouring money into the most successful science program ever. Those rocks that we spent so much money to bring back hardly seemed worth the roughly 20-billion-dollar price, but what we learned about ourselves was unmeasurable.

People may argue that other accomplishments besides Apollo are more important or successful for dozens of different reasons. It's a toss-up as to what is or isn't THE most successful program ever, but no one can argue that the motherlode of technological advancements that were given us from the early moon program was, and still is, astounding. Farther down the road after this upcoming return we will gain back even bigger dividends given enough time.

This time it isn't a race, but does it really need to be a race before we jump on board as a science oriented society?

Similar to the Apollo crew vehicles of the early space program, the new Crew Module will be utilizing a Service Module for its fuel and life support essentials, but this time we'll use solar panels to generate most of the electrical needs instead of using the fuel cells that were responsible for the near catastrophe of Apollo 13. The biggest changes will be in the nearly double-sized volume of the new crew compartment.

Differences and Similarities

To be a little cliche here, we can discribe these new spacecraft that we'll use to return to the moon as being like the Apollo era spacecraft on "steroids". That's not very far from the truth, actually. The Crew Module that will carry the next generation of American astronauts to the moon will now hold up to 6 crew members, twice the Apollo capacity. The Lunar Module will allow for up to 4 crew members to touchdown on the Lunar surface. But that's about as far as the similarities go, however.

The rockets that will propel the crew and hardware towards the moon are shown in the opening photograph. There is also an image comparing the sizes of the new rockets to the Space Shuttle and the original Apollo Saturn V rockets viewable by clicking "read more" near the end of Part One. The most obvious changes are seen in the lower portion of the two new vehicles. The Crew Launch vehicle, which has just recently been christened as the Ares I launch vehicle, sports a solid-fueled rocket first stage, with a liquid-fueled second stage to take the Crew Module on into orbit.

NEW images!

The newly named Orion Crew Vehicle. The new Ares V Cargo Launch Vehicle. Approaching the ISS. Breaking out of the Cargo Vehicle shroud. Leaving Earth Orbit. The Orion and Lander at the moon. The LSAM and crew on the moon. Leaving the moon in the ascent stage. Full-resolution images of New Launch Vehicles.

Click read more for the rest of this two-part story.

The new heavy-lift cargo launch vehicle christened as Ares V, will have a first stage that uses liquid fuel propelled by four refined engines based on the well-tested engines of the Space Shuttle along with twin solid-fuel boosters for getting off the pad. The second stage will again be liquid fueled, as will the third stage. Just as the third stage was used to send the Lunar/Crew/Service Modules towards lunar orbit in the Apollo program, virtually the same technique will be used once again.

Third stage thrust from liquid-fueled engines will provide the means to get our new, "bigger-and-better" Crew and Lunar Modules to the moon.

Since we have at a minimum the knowledge and experience of building the first Lunar Modules and Crew/Service Modules, we'll now have a better idea of how much the new versions might cost.

Much of what was accomplished in the 1960's and 1970's was the first time anyone had ever built those original spacecraft. Everything was hand-made like a Rolls-Royce or a fine Swiss watch, unique and one-of-a-kind. The final costs in the Apollo program reflected that great novice effort. The Lunar Module alone was first expected to cost a half-billion dollars, yet wound up costing many times that. The costs won't be nearly as underestimated this time.

If the Space Shuttle didn't give us anything else in its 26+ years of service, it has at least provided mankind with a way to construct a very large space station (by early standards) which is operated and funded by an international effort. That in itself is a remarkable feat. But the build-it-for-multiple-uses mentality that went into the building and operation of the shuttle also spawned building techniques that will be greatly needed to help assure that we'll have a powerful, yet safe and reliable means of getting back to the moon.

There won't be much that will be re-used from one launch to the next on these new launch vehicles, but this time we'll be going back to the moon with longer stays in mind from the outset. What we land on the moon with will in some cases be utilized as storage or living facilities. Once we're established with a true moon base, the overall costs will actually be cheaper when comparing 1960's dollars to dollars in the 2010's.

Regardless of the costs, or how long it takes, or however many lives must be sacrificed, this program is needed to keep America leading the world in the quest for manned space exploration and high technology. As with the Apollo program, there will be spin-off benefits for all mankind that will take some time to directly affect the man on the street, but it will once again happen.

This program has the potential to galvanize all nations to try and do more for the creation of a peaceful world. Heaven knows we need that more than almost anything else. The world will benefit, from untold increases in knowledge and expertise in technological gains, and if we're really lucky, we just might find a way to go to Mars in the relatively near future by making this next-step effort now.

John Dobson has said, "What's the use of somebody who doesn't wonder? It is the hallmark of our species". I wonder the same. The real intangible here is how much our American society will recover from our current lack of world leadership in science and technology? Foreign educated engineers and scientists pervade our halls of high technology, and those should be our kids in there, not Abdullah's or Igor's or Yon Wein's.

If we're lucky, if things are coordinated in a way that will increase the levels of science and mathematical courses in our nation's schools, we'll pull back up to a point at least equal to even with other countries on this planet, but I personally hope that we go-for-broke here. We should strive to raise our levels of expertise in these areas to a point above that of the rest of the world. Humanity will eventually catch up just as it did in the 1970's after Apollo. It CAN be done, and AOAS will be doing all we can to help support and encourage these lofty goals.

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