Recently, various groups – including Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the space advocacy group the Planetary Society – have called for NASA to send astronauts to new destinations, such as asteroids.
But the budget request backs a plan developed under the Bush administration to retire the space shuttle by 2010 and develop a system to return humans to the Moon by 2020.
However, the document does not specify whether the Moon return will be accomplished by NASA’s Constellation programme, which aims to build a crew capsule called Orion and rockets called Ares to replace the shuttle.
Obama’s transition team was reported to have raised questions about the programme’s Ares rockets, which have been plagued by design concerns that include excess vibrations.
Some argue that existing rockets, such as the Atlas V or Delta IV currently used to loft spacecraft, would be better alternatives, while others back a new design.
NASA’s former chief, Mike Griffin, was a staunch supporter of the Constellation programme, but he resigned in January and his successor has not yet been named.
Been there, done that. Why would Buzz not want people to try to return the Moon? The US Department of Space has a nice ring to it.
There is limited value in returning to the Moon, according to a report co-authored by Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin … “There is neither significant (or short-term) science value nor space exploration and operation value in revisiting an Earth-orbit destination that was explored by mankind four decades ago.”
Instead, the authors say the US human exploration programme should focus first on sending astronauts to an asteroid or to L2, one of five gravitational ‘sweet spots‘ around Earth’s orbit. There, spacecraft essentially could be parked so that they could keep pace with Earth on their orbits around the Sun.
The authors say the site, which is farther away than the Moon, could host a space-station-like outpost. It could also act as an intermediate step on the way to Mars, where human missions could initially be sent to Mars’s moon Phobos before landing on the Red Planet itself.
To explore those options better, the authors propose that a new cabinet-level office be developed – the US Department of Space. It would take over from NASA and expand the agency’s current efforts to work with businesses on space vehicles to reach destinations in low-Earth orbit, such as the International Space Station. The department would also help spur the development of other technologies, including beaming solar energy down from space.