The second race to the moon has begun—and this time there will be a big cash payout for the winner. Four decades after Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind, the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize is offering $20 million to any private team that puts a robotic rover on the moon, plus $5 million in bonus prizes for completing such tasks as photographing one of the numerous man-made artifacts that remain there—for instance, the Apollo 11 lunar module descent stage that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left behind in 1969.
One goal of the Lunar X Prize is to rekindle excitement in space exploration by beaming pictures of historic lunar locations to Web sites or even cellphones. But dispatching robots to snoop around the moon also poses a risk to some of the most precious archaeological sites of all time. What if a rover reached Tranquility Base, where Armstrong landed, and drove over footprints, which are still intact and represent humanity’s first expedition to a celestial body? William Pomerantz, the director of space projects for the X Prize Foundation, acknowledges that possibility. “There’s always a tradeoff between wanting to protect the history that’s already there and wanting to visit the history,” he says.
Well, you can’t have it both ways NASA, preservation of historic sites on the Moon or let entrenpeneurs develop the place because the government is broke. Like the article states, treasure hunting, salvaging and selling to the highest bidder often is the economic driver needed for exploration and colonization.
Recently, media reports have described a sort of “shadow army” of engineers who – in their spare time – are designing an alternative to NASA’s future Ares rockets.
But who are they? And what exactly is the DIRECT project they are proposing? New Scientist takes a closer look.
What kind of rockets is NASA currently planning?
NASA is developing two different rockets, called Ares I and Ares V.
Ares I is a small rocket that would carry a capsule of astronauts up to low-Earth orbit and to the space station. Known as “the stick”, it uses two vertically stacked stages. The first is a solid rocket booster similar to those strapped to the sides of the space shuttle’s huge fuel tank. It provides the initial power for lift-off; then the second stage ignites in mid-air to carry the crew into orbit.
The larger Ares V rocket would haul cargo into orbit, including a lunar module that could dock with the astronauts in orbit and shoot them out to the Moon.
What’s wrong with those rockets?
NASA has focused on designing the Ares I crew launcher, since the shuttles are set to retire in 2010 and it is aiming to launch their replacement by 2015.
Its design was intended to be cheap and relatively easy, as it was supposed to reuse as much technology from the space shuttle as possible. But that has not been the case, largely because it must carry up a relatively heavy crew capsule, says Roger Launius, head space historian at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. “The solid rocket booster was not designed to lift this kind of load or to have something stacked on top of it,” he toldNew Scientist.
I think this is rather amusing, a mass mutiny of NASA engineers against the political glad-handing military-industrial-congressional-complex. I love it!
I wonder if NASA will fire all of these people? I’m sure Richard Branson or the Russians would give them a job!