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Going for the Moon… or… January 23, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Interesting, some of the chatter about the priorities of the Biden administration on space exploration. This from MSN late last year suggested that the new administration might be a fair bit more sceptical of a 2024 Moon return than the previous administration. There are some fairly solid technological and process issues…

The space agency has already paid Lockheed Martin nearly $3 billion to build three Orion capsules. Ideally, one of them would be ready to fly atop SLS late next year. But in ground testing back in November, engineers found a flaw in one of the capsule’s back-up power and data systems. To avoid further delays, NASA plans to conduct the first unmanned test-launch of Orion with the broken component still aboard. “NASA has confidence in the health of the overall power and data system,” the agency stated. Fixing the flaw could ultimately delay and add cost to the overall Artemis program, further incentivizing the Biden administration to simply bump the moon deadline to the right by a few years.

And last weekend there was the hardly stellar performance of the SLS rocket at the weekend.

Nasa’s Boeing-built deep space exploration rocket has cut short a crucial test, after briefly igniting all four engines of its core stage for the first time. Mounted in a test facility at Nasa’s Stennis space centre in Mississippi, the Space Launch System’s (SLS) 64-metre core stage roared to life for just over a minute on Saturday, well short of the roughly four minutes engineers needed to stay on track for the rocket’s first launch in November.

The engine test, originally scheduled to last eight minutes, was the last leg of Nasa’s nearly year-long “Green Run” test campaign. It was a vital step for the space agency and its top contractor before a debut unmanned launch later in 2021 under Nasa’s Artemis programme, the Trump administration’s push to return US astronauts to the moon by 2024. It was unclear whether Boeing and Nasa would have to repeat the test, a prospect that could push the debut launch into 2022

But there are other reasons why Biden might be sanguine about soft-pedalling this.  Naomi Oreskes in Scientific American in their January edition noted that:

A 2018 Pew Research poll found that 80 percent think the space station has been a good investment, 72 percent think it is essential for the U.S. to remain a global leader in space, and 65 percent say that should happen through NASA, not primarily through private companies. But only 18 percent think it should be a top priority to send humans to Mars, and only 13 percent support sending humans to the moon.

And:

So what do Americans want NASA to do? The answer may come as a surprise: 63 percent say NASA should make monitoring global climate a top priority. If we include those who think it should be an important (but not top) priority, the percentage increases to a whopping 88 percent. The second-highest priority is looking for asteroids or other objects that might hit our planet. Many of us have been loath even to talk about climate change because it is seen as divisive—but one thing that seems to unify us is the belief that the most important thing we can do in space is to collect information to protect ourselves and our one and only Earth.

There’s nothing I’d like better than a human led space presence. Particularly beyond low Earth orbit – and the idea of a Lunar spacelab is particularly appealing. But those other priorities mentioned in the Pew Survey do need to take precedence. They point to a seam of sensible pragmatism about spaceflight and indeed point to the centrality of same in ensuring the wellbeing of this planet. Which is not to say that a Moon landing is a bad idea, anything but, but four years of the Trump administration have seen a gratuitous tilt away from NASA and other agencies efforts to engage with the global climate crisis. Time to rebalance that first.

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