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NASA's New Mission
Answering David Bowie Once and For All
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Chris Sheehan of Celebrity Pilots writes a short piece on his current employer, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
In leu of an interview for Tweed, Chris Sheehan (Celebrity Pilots) discusses his job's new direction--that is, his job with NASA. His new record Beneath the Pavement, a Beach! is available from Sunken Treasure Records. It's a beautiful wrangling of the left and right brain that makes for 14 immensely enjoyable tracks. I recommend you preview the entire record here (Totally free! Flash required).
On January 14, 2004 President Bush publicly outlined a new mission for NASA which had, up to this point, largely been committed to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) experimentation in microgravity and construction of the International Space Station (ISS). This new Exploration Vision commits NASA and its partners to the exploration of the Solar System, beginning with a return of humans to the Moon (or to that clandestine studio in Arizona if you're one of the skeptics) by the end of the next decade, and voyages to Mars to follow.
This re-alignment has presented NASA and its contractors with a number of immediate challenges both technical and fiscal. In order to prepare for space exploration, many of the present ISS experimental projects have been cancelled in favor of programs which most directly impact human space exploration. These new experiments and programs are developing human life support mechanisms and protections from space environment (radiation, muscle atrophy etc). This transition has been difficult for many of the NASA centers as they wait for budgets to be prepared, parceled, and examined in Senate subcommittees.
NASA's new mission essentially removes the shuttle from service no later than 2010 and replaces it with a new generation of spacecraft, the Crew Launch Vehicle. The first goal of the exploration is the construction of one or a number of Lunar Bases which could be used as a launch station for a journey to Mars. A launch from the Moon would be advantageous as it would greatly reduce the necessity for massive amounts of fuel to escape the Earth's gravity. Presumably, harvesting that lunar monolith would now be possible as well.
The mission to Mars, however, presents much larger problems than returning to the Moon. Analysts estimate that a voyage to Mars will require a spaceship on the order of 500 tons (by comparison the shuttle is roughly 20 tons), more than half of it fuel, in LEO. In addition to fuel considerations, water and oxygen supplies will be necessary for prolonged human sustenance although recycling water byproducts (yes, that's exactly what you think it is) can greatly reduce mass.
While allocation hasn't exceeded 1.0% of the federal budget since the tail end of the Apollo era, fiscal year 2006 alone will see NASA staked with roughly 17 billion dollars (still under 1.0%), assuming minimal revision within the House and Senate, with incremental future increases slated. Much of this funding will be used in the exploration initiative and ancillary support programs. The tangible rewards of this exploration journey cannot be guaranteed. We may not find life on Mars but the resultant technology developed through these endeavors can be pretty impressive. The space program can, to date, take credit for thousands of modern inventions such as virtual reality software, scratch resistant lenses, laser angioplasty, and the cut fastball.
Noted particle physicist Steven Weinberg who, when lecturing on the merits of seeking the Grand Unification Theory, compared his scientific journey to Francisco Coronado's obsessive search for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. While the expedition proved fruitless in uncovering untold riches, some useful items were found along the way--items such as... Texas.
Monday, 31 October 2005
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