A place far, far away

Posted 12/26/09

“When the First Ares V thundered into the Florida skies in 2018, the booster trailed not only a column of incandescent smoke but also a rich …

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A place far, far away


“When the First Ares V thundered into the Florida skies in 2018, the booster trailed not only a column of incandescent smoke but also a rich heritage spanning half a century. From the simple scouts to the complex shuttles, from the diminutive Redstones to the mighty Saturn Vs, Ares topped a vast family tree that stretched back to ancient Chinese fire arrows a millennium before. Thousands of engineers and technicians labored to transform blueprints into boosters. And after years of development, static firings, wind tunnel tests and computer simulations, it was finally time to set sail on the translunar sea…” Michael Carroll.

“The Seventh Landing: Going Back to the Moon, This Time to Stay” is a new book by Littleton space artist and author Michael Carroll, who warns, “civilization flowers and grows when it explores — when it stops exploring, it gets ingrown; China and Scandinavia as examples.” The U. S. has made six trips to the Moon, but none in recent years.

As many engineers and scientists at Lockheed Martin work on the Orion spacecraft, which will replace the shuttles due to be retired, Carroll says it’s time to consider how and why humans should return to the Moon, and perhaps beyond. He has interviewed involved dreamers and practical scientific types across the US and internationally.

“There have to be good reasons — scientifically, politically, financially,” the writer says, obviously convinced that there are.

Fortunately, he writes for the layman, so the non-specialist can share a dream that has been at the forefront for half a century. A reader who is not in the space exploration loop might not be aware of the ongoing efforts and successes of Russia‘s very active program. Russia is most active in the International Space Station, ISS, although the NASA Web site shows three new astronauts in Santa hats (Russian, American and Japanese) enroute for an ISS stay. In the appendix, Carroll lists moon missions since 1958, as well as Mars and Asteroid/Comet explorers.

Carroll says, “It takes several days, moving at an average of 15,000 miles per hour, for a crew of humans to reach the Moon. It will take six to eight months to make landfall on the rusted sands of Mars, years to voyage to the moons of Jupiter. Like those soaring cathedrals of Europe, such immensities humble us, make us feel small, put us in our place, while at the same time, prodding us to greater things. John F. Kennedy’s call to ‘do those things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard’ ripples across five decades to a time when we can, indeed, venture back out into the worlds around us, sculpting a future for humanity throughout the frontiers of the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

For many younger people, he finds, the Challenger and Columbia disasters are the markers for NASA. Earlier history is important. “The next generation has to decide it’s worthwhile and take ownership.”

His familiarity with other worlds came early, he says, with a father who was a Martin Marietta visionary, who worked on planetary projects. He attended Arapahoe Community College and graduated from CSU with a BFA in art and started with magazine illustration jobs. His paintings have been commissioned by NASA, National Geographic and others, he has authored books for children as well as adults — and teaches art.

He has learned that there is more than one opinion about how Moon and other exploration (especially Mars) can/will happen: While the new Ares launch vehicle is under development, engines of the Delta IV and Atlas V, which have been the “workhorses of the U. S. space program” are suggested by some as still viable models. The National Aeronautical Space Administration, NASA, defines considerations for the booster that will take Orion into lunar orbit: performance (necessary lift capability), risk (comparative reliability and track record of various existing systems), and the cost of all approaches and systems. Climate change must be calculated in policy decisions. Constellation is the name used for the combined projects. Six-time astronaut Marcia Ivins heads the exploration branch of NASA’s astronaut office.

The new Orion will need to carry substantial human and cargo payloads into low earth orbit. It could carry six astronauts to the ISS and four to the Moon, able to transport 23.3 metric tons into a translunar orbit that leads out of earth’s gravity and ends at the Moon, Carroll writes.

“People have been warning about the need for new development for a decade. We should have started 10 years ago,” he says, adding that people must see it as a national need, an integral part of international diplomacy. “It sounds a little science fiction to us, but we’re on the verge of a spacefaring world.”

Details of new development, as well as history are profusely illustrated with NASA-provided drawings and photographs, plus photos from Russian and Chinese sources. A challenge was getting permission to use a photograph by a Chinese photographer, and the logistics of how to pay for it— you can’t just send an American check or money order. Another was getting permission to quote from a Marvin Gay song, which had morphed through multiple ownerships. He started in late 2007 (usual timeline is 9 months to complete a book). Travel, interviews with astronauts, which was set up by NASA added to the timeline. And then there are the paintings. “In a way, I’ve been working on the book for 20 years,” he says.

He explains what might happen on the moon and how astronauts might set up camp to stay awhile and explore. The 50-year-old explorations in the Antarctic are cited as a model, in terms of internationally shared research and discoveries.

The Shackleton Crater (named for the famous arctic explorer) at the lunar south pole is mentioned as a possible site, because it allows for almost uninterrupted solar power and is almost continuously visible from earth, Carroll writes. Daytime temperatures climb to 100 degrees Centigrade, while night temperatures drop to minus 150 C.

Spacesuits will be improved based on experiences of the Apollo moon astronauts. Interesting photos here again, of a glove, of how the astronaut enters the suit.

Chapter Four is called Robot-Human Combo Systems, describing the landing of an Altair cargo vessel, with a robot ATHLETE which will unload cargo when met by robotic 12-wheeled Chariot vehicles. (Or it can navigate uneven terrain on its own). Habitat design is also under consideration (photos of models shown).

Carroll describes what will be “a peak life experience,” and contemplates future outposts on Mars and the moons of Jupiter.

Lunar history, more about exploration on Mars and varying thoughts about that projection plus a consideration of entrepreneurs and the private sector complete this fascinating look at the really rather immediate future.

The book is published by Springer at $29.95.


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