Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yuri's Night

Today is the fiftieths anniversary of Yuri Gargarin's orbit around the Earth in Vostok I. It is also been 30 years since the the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time in STS-I with John Young and Robert Crippen on board. Yuri's Night was begun in 2001 to celebration mankind achievements in space and honor those risked their lives in the exploration of space.

For many this is a bittersweet anniversary because of the two last shuttle flights coming up. With the United States mired in a budget crunch and recovering from a severe recession many wonder if there will ever be any human space flight from the US again.

I have no worries in this regards as we are on the verge of a new golden age of space. Elon Musk of SpaceX just recently announced the Falcon Heavy which, for the first time, will offer a cost into orbit of less than $1,000 per pound. This is a major breakthrough.

Then there are a variety of other companies like XCor, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space, Bigelow and Virgin Galactic all in serious development of various space development. Thanks to Armadillo and Masten we now have practical and affordable rockets that can lift off, fly, and land on their tail.

I end this post with a link to this inspiring song called a Fire In the Sky. There are more at this website


DHBoggs said...

Well the end of american space effort as we know it concerns me. The budgetary troubles are really no excuse. Its all politics. A decade ago we were told we were building toward a mission to Mars. A few years ago an elegant and very doable program was put into place by the previous administration that would have given us all the lift capability we need, reestablished our presence on the moon, and put Mars within eventual reach. The present administration cancelled all that. Now we are left with - nothing. Instead of a national space science effort, we are supposed to take pride in corporate ventures?

In about 5 or 6 years, americans will wake one morning to news that Chinese astronauts are planting their flag on the moon and we will finally understand what it means to be a nation in a self inflicted decline. At least the Chinese aren't as foolish as us.

Robert Conley said...

SpaceX can put in an American Capsule into space in three years with an R&D budget of 1 billion using the Dragon Space Capsule. The only thing they have not developed is the abort system for a manned capsule.

Combined with the efforts of Amaradillo, Masten, Virgin, there are going to be plenty of chances for an American spacecraft.

The fundamental problem is that the NASA space program is first and foremost about politics. Whether it is for glory or jobs.

Neither Eisenhower or Kennedy would have authorized Mercury and Apollo if it wasn't for the Russians and the threat of the loss of prestige.

But since the late 90s it has been possible for a private company to climb the learning curve and have to what amounts to be their own space program.

NASA will have a place in this but it will be like the National Science Foundation and Antarctica. NSF will pay private companies to build, maintain, and transport bases that NSF sponsored scientist are sent too.

Akhier the Dragon Hearted said...

The thing that gets me the most in the end is that we have the technology. Its not a matter of inventing something new, its all in making it better or you know just doing it in the first place. My personal opinion on how space travel will take the next step is either someone makes a break through that makes it cheap enough for non-government organizations to do it large scale or a disaster is seen coming at earth and we all go into panic mode.

Robert Conley said...

Actually that just happened. SpaceX annouced the Falcon Heavy which they feel can launch for less than $1,000 per pound of payload. That $1,000 mark has been considered the magic benchmark by many. Now this is not just future pie in the sky stuff as the Falcon Heavy is three Falcon 9s strapped together topped by their existing second stage. And the Falcon 9 has had two successful flights and a third one coming up.

The esstential trick of the Falcon Heavy in reducing cost is the that two outer Falcon 9s cross feed their fuel into the center booster keeping it near full throughout the flight. This is new technology which never flown before by anybody and the main thing that needs to be proven. Because the center booster is kept full that means when the two outer rocket stage you have a full Falcon 9 several miles up in the atmopshere going at speed. This allows the rocket to launch half of what a Saturn V can. In the press conference Elon Musk stated that two of them could launch an Apollo style mission. It can even be used as a foundation for a Mars Mission.

If they succeed SpaceX will have done in 10 years, they started in 2002, what NASA could not do in the nearly 40 years since Apollo. And I don't really blame NASA as it was directed to be a general space carrier, something the agency was never really meant to be in the first place. NASA strength is in R&D and Exploration. My hope is for NASA to be able to buy the things needed for exploration in the same way the NSF buys the things needed for the exploration of Antarctica.