The race to reach space for human beings has now become an international enterprise, with private firms and billionaire entrepreneurs joining in with the hope of reaching space at the cheapest cost. While NASA is involved in space research, its budget is limited. It also has too few astronauts to cover all of the time it is supposed to be operating.
On July 9th, Buzz Aldrin, the famous space veteran and friend of NASA told reporters that he had spoken to both President Bush and Obama about the need to reduce the cost of spaceflights. He was quoted as saying “I said to President Bush, ‘If you do not get this done, I will go somewhere else to do it myself. I just don’t think we can afford to be going around the world doing space flights, and we need to turn it around, and I think that’s only going to happen if there is a change in the leadership, and I hope it is soon.’ And with that said via the Internet from a podium at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., Buzz Aldrin revealed that a new space probe, the Polar orbiter, would be launched before the end of the decade, with the first humans to travel to space possibly traveling around the moon.
The new space probe will carry a new heavy-duty landing rocket. It will use a solid-fueled expendable solid rocket motor, instead of using one of the gas powered solid-fuel rockets that NASA has used in the past. A lander would then push off from that base. If all goes well, this could be one of the first humans to land on the moon, and it may pave the way for future lunar colonies. The idea behind the mission is to land the probe onto a thick layer of snow-covered ice, called theopard iceberg, which is located at about two to three meters below the surface.
During the 1960’s, NASA had a plan to land astronauts on the moon, called the Moon Plan. Although this was never put into action, it did garner some support from people such as Buzz Aldrin, and later Neil Armstrong. The problem with the Moon Plan was the expense of actually doing this. So in the late sixties, NASA came up with a cheaper way to get to the red planet – the Mars Study Rover. It also had a simpler means for getting to the martian atmosphere, and that is with its Solid Rocket Motors, or RVMs.
With a new engine and better ways to control the spacecraft, the engineers were able to shrink the size of the new rocket. Now, instead of needing a large and expensive launch vehicle, they can have the same weight of an ICBM, but can use a smaller rocket. This will cut down on cost, and also help lower the risk of having an accident. Getting to the Mars surface will take a lot less fuel than expected, so it will use less energy, allowing for longer space walks, and eventually to Mars, itself.
Of course, getting humans to Mars is not just about having the fastest possible trip. It will be sending up humans who have never seen another living being, and will need to adjust to its new habitat. Although the Unity 22 mission was designed with this in mind, and will function like a “study planet”, it is still quite a long way from the ultimate goal.
Even though private space flight has been around for quite some time now, getting people to the edge of space may take a little longer than originally planned. Currently, there are four different kinds of capsules that can help you reach orbit. Some use liquid oxygen and solid hydrogen, while others use kerosene and solid fuel. Each has its own purpose, and using one does not mean you are ready to go. There are tests and experiments going on to find out which system works best, as well as the exact way it needs to be designed for weightlessness.
Private space flight is one of NASA’s most important missions, and a lot depends on whether or not Unity 8 will make it. If it doesn’t, this mission will go very back in the timeline, and may even lead to a complete overhaul of the space program. July 7th is the day that the Unity, carrying nearly $700 million towards its journey, leaves Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for its July 8th landing. The actual event should be occurring in the skies over Texas, but if it isn’t, it will just have to wait.