Going back to the Moon looks easier than thought

October 23, 2010

Ouch!

 

Not only did the LCROSS mission recently find water on the Moon, but the amounts turn out to be significant and includes useful volatile chemicals:

The missions found evidence that lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials. Moreover, the moon appears to be chemically active and has a full-fledged water cycle. Scientists also confirmed that ‘moon water’ was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places.

These results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the crater’s rim, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

“Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In addition to water, the plume contained “volatiles.” These are compounds that freeze in the cold lunar craters and vaporize easily when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Read the rest at WUWT. It’s very exciting; not only is the problem of water for lunar explorers probably solved, but the volatiles indicate that usable fuels could be extracted from the soil, rather than being shipped from Earth, a very expensive proposition. These twin discoveries make a return to Luna and the establishment of a base there potentially much less daunting than previously thought.

Gosh, it would be so nice to have a real space program again.

Maybe a private company will make it so.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Once upon a time, we had a space program

February 1, 2010

And it’s going to seem like a fairy tale to future generations, with the Obama administration killing a return to the Moon:

NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there — that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.

When the White House releases his budget proposal Monday, there will be no money for the Constellation program that was supposed to return humans to the moon by 2020. The troubled and expensive Ares I rocket that was to replace the space shuttle to ferry humans to space will be gone, along with money for its bigger brother, the Ares V cargo rocket that was to launch the fuel and supplies needed to take humans back to the moon.

There will be no lunar landers, no moon bases, no Constellation program at all.

I’ll be frank, this makes me very sad.  Sad

I grew up with the space program, from Mercury through Apollo. On launch days, my parents would let me stay home from school, figuring I’d learn more watching TV that day than I’d miss in class. I ran outdoors with my father to look at the Moon the day Neil Armstrong took that first step, and I was glued to the news during the Herculean effort to rescue Apollo 13. I waited patiently (okay, not so patiently) as the program was allowed to wither in the 70s and continue halfheartedly with the Shuttle program. And I remember how jarring it sounded when, for the first time in my life, I heard the calm, confident voice of Mission Control crack when he announced the shuttle Challenger had been lost.

All that time, I believed in my heart we’d return to real space exploration one day, and I cheered when President Bush announced a return to the Moon.

“Forget it,” says President Obama.

Sure, as Allahpundit argues, a fiscal conservative should have no problem with saving money in a time of recession and amidst insane profligacy. And, taken on its own, I’d agree with him.

But the idea that we can achieve significant savings by dropping the Lunar program is, well, a crock of you-know-what. The NASA budget is roughly $18 billion. The bills so far, over several years of development for the Ares rocket and the Constellation program has been an additional $8 billion. Call it $24 billion, total.

The Obama budget proposal released today projects a deficit of $1.267 trillion. The cost of NASA plus the Constellation program to date is less than 1.9% of the federal deficit. It’s six-tenths of a percent of the proposed budget. To argue that canceling the return to the Moon represents any real savings is farcical at best, and an insult to the intelligence of the American people. It’s like a fat man ordering a double bacon-cheeseburger and fries, and then claiming it’s okay because he also got a diet soda.

As I wrote on another matter:

You [President Obama] were willing to blow nearly $800 billion on a stimulus bill that was a monument to waste. You want to take over one-sixth of the American economy, a move opposed by nearly two-thirds of the nation, at a cost of … what is it these days, a trillion dollars? You have flushed down the toilet tens of billions on auto and mortgage bailout programs that have netted the Republic nothing. And that’s only in your first year!

And what’s NASA supposed to be doing, since it’s no longer taking us to the stars? Navel-gazing. Monitoring climate-change on Earth. The irony is almost overwhelming. We’re going to save money by not going to the Moon, but we’re going to flush down the toilet what we do spend tracking a “problem” that’s been shown to be a gigantic fraud. Head, meet brick wall.

While I applaud the plans mentioned in the original article to bring in more private contractors and I agree there’s an important role for the commercial development of the inner Solar System, I still believe we need a American space program.  I’m somewhat of a national greatness conservative; while I support the idea of limited government, there are still some areas that are legitimate Federal projects, and space exploration is one of them. A nation descended of pioneers, we need explorers to challenge the boundaries and open up to us the possibilities of “out there.” We need the jolt of national pride that comes from doing what everyone else says is impossible, like walking on the Moon. We need heroes.

Sure, it’s a romantic notion. For all the practical arguments one can make about the benefits of high tech developed through the program or of jobs provided from Alabama to California, it’s all about a kid’s dreams that came to life one day in July, 1969.

Don’t tell me kicking those to the curb is worth six-tenths of a percent.

LINKS: LowDown Central, where Lance Thompson say the President has mooned the American spirit. Pamela Geller on trillions for a hoax. Rich Trzupek – To Boldly Go Nowhere.

UPDATE: Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 co-pilot and the second man on the Moon, likes the plan.


When the Eagle landed

July 20, 2009

Today is the 40th anniversary of one of the great moments in not just American history, but all humanity’s. Six thousand years after humans built their first cities, three men left the Earth and two of them walked on another world. On July 20th, 1969, the lunar module Eagle landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their famous walk. Here’s some remastered video from NASA of that time:

I was 11 at the time and remember watching the landing with my Dad and then rushing outside to look at the Moon. To someone like me who had grown up watching every mission from Mercury to Apollo and who loved science fiction movies and TV, this seemed like only the beginning of a fabulous adventure, not the high-water mark of a program that would die only a few missions later, a bright future that became a might-have-been.

With all due respect to the men and women who worked on the shuttle program (soon to be shut down) in the years after and especially to those who lost their lives, I still have to say it:

I remember when we had a real space program.

LINKS: Charles Krauthammer on The Moon We Left Behind. Tom Wolfe on the real reasons Washington gutted the space program. The speech Nixon would have given, had the mission ended in disaster. Exurban League has the transcript. Hot Air has links to Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photos showing the various landing sites. From reader John H. in the comments come a link to a really neat site. Check it out: We Choose the Moon. Iowahawk presents a bold yet modest proprosal to reinvigorate the space program: send Congress to the Moon.

PARTING SHOT: To the lunatics out there who think the Moon landing was faked – where do you think we hid Obama’s birth certificate, eh?  Silly

ONE MORE THING: Poor Michael Collins. Not only was he left “upstairs” in the Apollo XI command module, but I forgot to mention him in the post.  Seems he always gets forgotten…