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NASA’s Orion completes historic flight, but why can’t man return to the Moon?

21st Century Wire says…

When NASA unveiled its space shuttle program in the mid-1970’s, it was hailed as a major breakthrough in space travel, using a ‘reusable’ spacecraft to fly multiple mission and with a savings in the hundreds of millions per mission. And then the US government scrapped the space shuttle and replaces it with… Orion?

Nearly 50 year on from NASA’s first mission to the Moon, and not once – ever – has the space agency even mentioned a plan to return to our Earth’s closest celestial body. Why is that? Instead, govt space agencies and their private contractors are piling in with budgets and all but impossible plans to send manned missions to Mars instead. Rather conveniently (see Orion story below), space officials are constantly laying on caveats and announcing delays to actually launching the Mars mission, and one might think was because neither NASA nor its privatized counterpart actually have a viable theory as to how to get there, much less a working physical plan for completing that mission.

One of the main barriers that astronauts will face in mounting a deep space journey to the red planet is surviving passage through the Earth’s notorious Van Allen radiation belts.


The belts extends some 60,000 kilometers above the planet’s surface and is mostly formed from solar wind and other particles by cosmic rays. The belt is what actually helps protect the Earth from cosmic radiation and solar shock waves, and is held in place by the Earth’s magnetic fields.

It’s believed that human exposure to the belts’ intense radiation would be fatal, and would require a substantial, thick lead, or alternate radiation shield around any spacecraft making that journey with human’s on board. To date, NASA has never fully explained how its Apollo astronauts were able to make repeated journeys through the belt in its relatively primitive 1960’s space capsules. The agency maintains that its astronauts had ‘low exposure in the Van Allen belts due to the short period of time spent flying through it. The question here is compounded by the fact that the Apollo command modules were made of aluminum with a thin steel ‘honeycomb’ core.

Wikipedia states, “The astronauts’ overall exposure was dominated by solar particles once outside Earth’s magnetic field. The total radiation received by the astronauts varied from mission to mission but was measured to be between 0.16 and 1.14 rads (1.6 and 11.4 mGy), much less than the standard of 5 rem (50 mSv) per year set by the United States Atomic Energy Commission for people who work with radioactivity. 

Any mission to Mars would require an extended journey through the Van Allen radiation belts, leaving much uncertainty about the crew’s chances of survival, as well as the excess weight required to sufficiently shield any manned exploration craft.

To date, neither Russia, China, India, Europe, or the United States – have ever hinted at stepping foot on the Moon again.

Why go to Mars when the Moon is so under-explored?

Orion is NASA’s Next Big Hope – For Mars Mission


NASA entered a new era of space exploration on Friday when its Orion capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after going farther from the planet than any spacecraft built for humans in more than 40 years.

The maiden test flight — made without astronauts aboard — is a step toward eventually getting astronauts to deep space: first to help snag an asteroid, and then, NASA hopes, to Mars. Orion lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 7:05 a.m., a day after gusty wind and problems with several valves forced officials to cancel the mission.

But on Friday, the 4.5-hour mission appeared to go off flawlessly. “There’s your new spacecraft, America,” said Mission Control commentator Rob Navias shortly before Orion hit the water.

(…) In the post-flight press conference, Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager, said: ” It’s hard to have a better day than today.” And he described the Orion and the Delta IV as “nearly flawless.”

The images of Earth seen from such a great distance, he said, “reminded us here we are again now — the United States leading exploration out into the solar system.”

Since 1972, human flights have been restricted to the orbit level of the International Space Station. But Friday’s flight went 15 times as far.

NASA plans another test flight without astronauts in 2018. A crew is scheduled aboard Orion in about 2021.

Sometime in the 2020s, NASA plans to capture an asteroid with a robotic spacecraft, then drag it to the moon’s orbit where it would connect with the Orion. Astronauts would then be able to take samples from the asteroid.

“Just the idea of having a human around the moon interacting with an asteroid — that’s mind boggling,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said Friday. “We are very confident we can do this.”

The big target, however, remains Mars, which NASA says astronauts could reach sometime in the 2030s.

But for all the excitement of Friday’s launch and talk of grand plans to go to Mars, NASA has been hampered by tight budgets and doesn’t have the funding for a mission to the red planet. Critics say that the Mars mission exists on paper only.

While the Orion was initially part of a program, called Constellation, designed to return to the moon, its mission changed after the Obama administration killed Constellation and made Mars the goal. Friday’s mission used the Delta IV. But future Orion missions would use the new Space Launch System rocket, or SLS, which is still being developed.

“The SLS remains a big question mark — both in terms of its development and funding, as well as political support,” wrote Marco Caceres, a senior space analyst with the Teal Group, in his newsletter. “Without the SLS, Orion is like a Cadillac without wheels.”

Caceres and others have warned that the SLS project must be complete before a plausible timetable can be put on reaching Mars…

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Continue this story at The Switch 

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