The Houston Chronicle recently spent some time with NASA legend Dr. Chris Kraft, and the man who oversaw NASA’s first steps into space didn’t have many complimentary things to say about the things NASA has done lately—or the things it has on the drawing board.
Kraft, who will be 90 next February, is directly responsible for the initial shape and structure of NASA’s flight controller hierarchy, and he sat at the flight director’s console for all of Project Mercury. In 1982, he formally retired from his position as director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, but he has never been shy to speak his mind about manned space flight. Among the topics drawing fire in the Chronicle interview are NASA’s asteroid landing plans, the upcoming Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, and the eventual goal of landing on Mars.[More]
Chris Kraft is one of the important guys in the US space program. So you have to listen to what he says.
I agree with him on a heavy launch vehicle, especially one seemingly designed to take people to Mars. We do not need it. It will be too costly and be used to seldom to be worth much.
Half the energy needs to get to Mars are simply getting out of the Earth’s gravity well to LEO. Why not work to make it cheaper,easier to get ther?
NASA does not need to do that as Space-X is working to reduce the cost to $800 a kilogram. Without the SLS system.
Now Craft denigrated landing someone on an asteroid, and I agree with him there. Sending people just to send them is not a good use of funds.
But, what would be really useful is capturing an asteroid and moving it into orbit around the Moon. Why? For the same reason I agree with Craft about mining on the moon – resources.
The moon has many of the things we need to make a lot of stuff, particularly solar arrays. There are multiple proposals to put solar arrays on the far side of the moon, where they are pretty much always in the sun. Then that energy can be beamed back to the Earth.
This could provide energy that would never get to the Earth and could never be captured on its surface. It would require robots to build all of this. But a useful telepresence for operating robots needs the lag for communications to be less than 0.5 seconds. It takes much longer than this to communicate from the Earth to the moon.
But, put a manned space station at a Lagrange point on the far side of the moon and you are well within range. And that is just what NASA wants to do.
So NASA wants to put an asteroid in orbit around the Moon, at the same place it wants to put an orbiting base for robotic telepresence of mining on the moon. It turns out that asteroids may have a lot of stuff that the moon has little of – like water, which can be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen, both needed to construct power arrays.
So, why has NASA not outlined this cohesive plan? Move needed asteroids close to the moon where humans, using robots, can mine the needed resources, along with those on the moon itself to build solar arrays to provide power for all of humanity.
All the pieces are there. They have all the studies. The costs are dropping every day. Now we just need the will.