They Put a Man on the Moon

Apollo Astronaut on the Moon

In thirteen years from now, with a budget of at least US$108 billion, NASA plans to once again put a man on the moon. In fact not one, but four at a time. Perhaps even a woman this time ;-). The major difference in the new moon launch plan – and something no doubt which came out of all the thinking about how “unsafe” the shuttle missions have been – is that a large unmanned heavy cargo launcher will take the actual moon vehicle and cargo up into Earth orbit; then a smaller crew launcher rocket will take the crew into orbit and allow them to dock with the mission specific vehicle. As far as coming back to Earth is concerned, the craft will be much like the original Apollo capsules, but with airbags to land inland and not at sea.

I have a couple of questions on my mind. Firstly, it was announced in the early 60s that the US could make it to the moon before the end of the decade. Today, in 2005, they can only announce 2018 as a possible date for a moon landing. Clearly the plans are more ambitious but the basic fact is that it will take more time, because everything is more complex and more grandiose. Secondly, the budget is very much equivalent to the original Apollo mission budget converted into 1994 US$. Indeed, it’s cheaper. So a more complex project to put four men onto the moon for seven days is budgeted to be cheaper that Apollo was. Somewhere, something doesn’t quite add up for me.

So why go there at all? A number of people hark back to forty two years ago, and one of JFK’s renowned speeches from 1962 :

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Back then, the Russians were engaged with the US administration in the space race. They put the first man in space in April 1961 and this speech followed a few months later. I wonder therefore if the desire to get back to the moon has anything to do with the Chinese space program. They may have denied having plans for a manned moon mission back in 2002, but being the clear leader in defense and aeronautics is a keystone of American policy.

Image Credit : NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC)

5 Responses to “They Put a Man on the Moon”

  1. Trista Says:

    I’ll be honest, I am not a science person, so I really don’t understand a lot of the mechanic’s of the new moon vehicles, but I think you do have a good point about America trying to compete with the Chinese space program.

  2. Simon Says:

    Hi Trista,

    I try to strike a balance between scientific detail and more general points, so I’m pleased that you have commented and relate to part of the post.

    -Fruey

  3. Mike Says:

    Perhaps if they take a woman with them this time, she may clean up the mess they always left behind on previous missions:):)

    All the best
    Mike

  4. Simon Says:

    Hi Mike, good to see you here. I read your blog quite regularly but you update so often perhaps I miss some of the “pearls”.

    There are a few golf balls and other rubbish they left up there which must be worth a fortune if anyone brings them back now. Then again, some people think they never got there at all… hehe.

    -Fruey

  5. Mike Says:

    Thanks for being a regular reader!

    All the best

    Mike