Monday, March 30, 2009
NASA Goes Back to the Future
I know it's very un-Left of me and a bit of a surprise for someone who has no talent for science or technology, but I've been a fan of the space program since early childhood. I had relatives who worked for NASA from its beginnings in the 1950s. What I remember best from the 1960s was not Vietnam and Hippies, but Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. I think I watched every launch from John Glenn's first orbit to the last Apollo moon launch in 1972. That included all the now forgotten Gemini missions. If I saw Alan Shepard's one shot into space, I don't remember because I was too young.
NASA is finally rolling out the Constellation program that it intends to replace the Space Shuttle. It's a design that almost completely scraps the shuttle design and returns to earlier successes. It's a good thing too. I've never been a fan of the Shuttle and I think it should have been scrapped immediately after the Challenger disaster in 1986. So far, it has killed more astronauts than Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Soviet space program combined. I think the only reason it lingered as long as it did (to kill more astronauts) was because the contractors were so heavily invested in it, and the government contracts were just too sweet.
The proposed redesign has been in the works for almost 10 years with the astronauts themselves playing a crucial role in the design. It is a return to what worked so well for so long, booster rockets with capsules on the top. Leaking O rings and falling foam insulation would no longer be a problem since the crew would be back on top of the rocket instead of riding on the side. The Constellation program will have 2 different rockets for launching crews and large payloads seperately. All the rocket parts will be recyclable, and can be adapted for specific tasks.
We may finally be able to return to the moon and to eventually go to Mars, and look back and see once again just how very small our Earth, our everything, really is.
Posted by Counterlight at Monday, March 30, 2009