Saturday, May 3, 2008

Is Constellation just a rehash of Apollo?

Artist's conception of the Orion Spacecraft in lunar orbitImage via WikipediaNASA has proposed "Project Constellation", which aims to put men back on the moon by 2020. Part of the project are the "Orion" manned vehicle, launched by the "Ares" (in versions I and V) rocket, and using the "Altair" lunar lander.

Some have evaluated the program and see it as another big expensive project that will compete for funding with science, and also will compete with the Commercial off the shelf (COTS) initiative.

While I've been a big fan of space exploration all my life, I have my doubts about this whole thing.

Except for some semi reuse at the beginning, it sure seems like the entire thing is more or less "Apollo, but bigger and better" ... Aries I and V (which use Shuttle SRB derived first stages) launch a crew module and lander separately, a rendezvous in orbit mates those and the crew module stays in orbit around the moon while the lander lands. The descent stage is left on the moon, just like the LEM.

Why do this at all? We already know how to do this. Instead of developing new government rockets, (and make work projects) why not just pay for launch capacity from SpaceX or whoever? Or better yet, how about actually building some industrial capacity on the lunar surface? I want the transformative activity in near earth space that science fiction promised us. It's 2008, where's my lunar catapult?

What do you think? Rehash or value add?

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