Issue 48, 1 August 2009 -- 40th Apollo Anniversary Year

  1. The trouble with NASA, by Stephen Ashworth
  2. New space blog
  3. The First Men in the Moon -- the view from 1901

=============== AE ===============

(1) The trouble with NASA

Stephen Ashworth

The trouble with NASA’s view of its role in the universe is clearly exposed in a blog by Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program Manager. (Thanks to Jacqueline Myrrhe’s Exploration News for this reference.)

Hanley vigorously defends the Constellation architecture of Orion, Altair and Ares I and V. His concluding paragraph is:

“NASA’s value lies in the trails that it blazes, the things we do that are hard, so that industry can follow and create new markets. Our role is to occupy the pinnacle of a $300B ‘space economy’ that generates products and services that bolster the nation’s broader economic productivity. We are doing so in a highly constrained ‘go as you pay’ environment, in parallel with meeting the nation’s commitment to completing the International Space Station, retiring the Space Shuttle, and mapping a course for human endeavor beyond our experience.”

What an inspiring statement! What a creative, worthwhile justification for what NASA is doing! How could we possibly not support it? Except ...

Except that, judging from this blog, we can confidently deduce that the future of the ISS is now secure and that new markets in commercial passenger spaceflight are in full swing.

What is the reality? NASA is talking about deliberately destroying the ISS between 2016 and 2022. Meanwhile commercial spaceflight to orbit is strugging to increase its economic productivity from one passenger seat to orbit per year to two seats, while according to some reports the ISS may even close its doors to private visitors.

The rhetoric is great. What a pity that it contradicts the reality!

=============== AE ===============

(2) New space blog

Stephen Ashworth

The BBC journalist Jonathan Amos has started a new blog at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/

Some lively responses have already been posted.

This will be a useful means of prompting at least one journalist to try to behave more like a genuine journalist -- and not to pose as a gushing PR officer for ESA or for the global space cartel. Space reporting needs just as much of a critical sense as do political or environmental journalism, but that critical sense is too often lacking.

=============== AE ===============

(3) “The First Men in the Moon” -- the view from 1901

Stephen Ashworth

I’ve been inspired by the Apollo anniversary to re-read the classic novel by H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon.

Wells had a wonderfully poetic view of conditions on the Moon.

His characters -- Cavor, the eccentric inventor of the antigravity material cavorite, and Bedford, the narrator who gets caught up in the action in the hope of rescuing his desperate financial affairs and making a fortune -- land on the Moon just before dawn.

It is the Moon we know: completely airless and seemingly lifeless.

But then the Sun comes up, and the space travellers see through their windows that the ground is covered with a white snow which vaporises as the Sun’s rays touch it. Frozen air! Over the course of an hour or two the lunar landscape is provided with an atmosphere. Seed-pots sprout and put out living shoots. Before long Cavor and Bedford are able to disembark without spacesuits into a landscape which has transformed itself into something like a tropical jungle.

After various adventures in the underground world of the ant-like Selenites, the return to the spherical spacecraft is at sunset, when the reverse process is under way. The plants are dying, having left seeds that can survive the lunar night until the next dawn. The atmosphere is snowing down onto the ground, and the air pressure rapidly falling towards vacuum. Getting back to the safety of the sphere becomes a race against time.

What a pity that this poetic vision of a living world alternating with a dead one is physically impossible!

For a daytime lunar atmosphere would necessarily spread over the night side of the Moon as well. Only a small pressure differential between tenuous daytime and nighttime atmospheres would be possible, as the frozen air constantly evaporated along the dawn terminator only to refreeze everywhere over the night side.

Even the device of having the lunar landing in a large crater would not provide enough of an obstacle to the movement of the air to trap a breathable amount of it within the crater.

I have often wondered whether there might be a way to update Wells’s vision, to recreate this kind of world with a mechanism which is more physically plausible. This could be the basis of a new novel. But how would it work?

=============== AE ===============

Astronautical Evolution is an e-mail forum devoted to debate and comment from an astronautical evolutionist perspective. To subscribe / unsubscribe / contribute / comment, please e-mail Stephen Ashworth, sa--at--astronist.demon.co.uk.


Back to AE home page