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2007 9 Popular Mechanics How

2007 9 Popular Mechanics How

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T h e F i r s T h A l F - c e n T U r y o F s p A c e e x p l o r AT i o n W A s sTUnning, From spUTnik To moonWAlks To inTerp l A n e TA r y p r o B e s . T h e n e x T 5 0 y e A r s p r o m i s e even more AWe-inspiring milesTones: liFe-seeking rovers, A lUnAr BAse And The U lT i m A T e o F F - e A r T h A d v e n T U r e — A c o l o n y o n m A r s .

The first man-made object in orbit

didn’t look like much. An aluminum sphere about 2 ft. across, it was filled with pressurized nitrogen and carried two small transmitters that beamed wavering radio signals to the planet below. on day 22, the batteries ran out and the satellite fell silent. A few weeks later, the craft most likely vaporized as it plunged back to earth. To Americans at the height of the cold War, the soviet Union’s launch of sputnik 1 on oct. 4, 1957, came as a shock—and a spur. The competition that would inevitably be known as the space race was on. small orbs carrying transmitters were soon followed by larger ones carrying men. And, within a mere dozen years, human beings left footprints in the dust of the moon. But then, after a handful of lunar missions, we lowered our sights. For the past 35 years, manned spaceflight has been limited to low earth orbit. “part of the problem is that, in the big picture, Apollo was premature,” Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin says. “it was a spurt of progress artificially stimulated by the

race to beat the russians.” Today, with the cold War long over and cooperation with russia an everyday event in space, we are making bold plans again: private space missions, a lunar base and, ultimately, the long haul to mars. And with those big ambitions come big questions: What is the proper balance between manned and unmanned exploration? is longterm spaceflight too risky for humans? is it worth the cost? For this special issue, PoPular Mechanics commemorates the first 50 years of spaceflight by looking ahead to the next 50. it will be in these coming decades—within the lifetime of most of us now living—that human beings make the transition from earthbound creatures to a space-faring people.
—James B. meigs,
editor-in-chief

LIfE ON tHE MOON Page 82 SURvIvINg MARS Page 86 SPACE: tHE fIRSt 50 yEARS Page 91
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h o W W e ’ l l l i v e o n T h e m o o n
A Former shUTTle AsTronAUT e x p l A i n s W h AT l i F e W i l l B e l i k e o n nAsA’s FUTUre lUnAr BAse.

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“hardscrabble” was what future president Ulysses s. grant named his ramshackle homestead on the pre-civil War missouri frontier. That might be an apt title for nAsA’s planned lunar outpost, for its residents will find the moon a harsh place to settle. survival will depend on their ability to evade micrometeoroids, extract oxygen from rocks and even, like grant, grow wheat.
The space agency announced its strategy to return to the moon last december. instead of emulating the series of six Apollo landings, it chose as its initial goal the establishment of a single lunar outpost. Using the new crew exploration vehicle, Orion, nAsA plans to send four astronauts to the moon as early as 2020 (“mission: moon,” march ’07 ). eventually, four-man crews will rotate home every six months. Their goal will be to live off the land, extend scientific exploration and practice for an eventual leap to mars. The moon, says nAsA, is the place to get our spacesuited hands dirty. “The lunar base is part of an overall plan that has legs, that makes sense,” says Wendell mendell, chief of the office of lunar and planetary exploration at Johnson space center. “We’re moving the human species out into the solar system.” practical and scientific attractions of the lunar poles. Temperature is one factor: At the poles, the sun’s slanting rays produce a moderate daylight range of minus 22 to minus 58 F compared to the equatorial high of 270 F , . But the real advantage of the poles is access to resources. near the south pole, for example, some high crater rims are bathed in nearly constant sunshine. suntracking solar arrays placed there would provide steady power and charge storage batteries to supply electricity during the brief periods of darkness. An even more valuable resource may lie in the craters’ depths. spacecraft data suggest they could harbor hundreds of millions of metric tons of water ice, accumulated from billions of years of comet impacts. Using a simple electric heater, robot ice miners could free
• • •

•••

choosing a homestead

By ThomAs d. Jones

the apollo landings from 1969 to 1972 were restricted by fuel limitations to destinations fairly close to the lunar equator. This time, nAsA is drawn to the

The neW lUnAr BAse
Moderate temperatures, nearly perpetual sunshine, flat landing areas and subterranean resources make the rim of the Shackleton Crater—situated within the solar system’s largest impact crater—an ideal location for a lunar homestead, down near the moon’s south pole. NASA hopes to send the first pioneers there by 2020.
mines: At about $25,000 per pound, lunar shipping costs force the outpost to mine and manufacture much of its own materials. In the crater basin, miners extract oxygen from ice crystals deposited by comets or asteroids. Stripmined regolith yields nitrogen for farming, calcium for cement and hydrogen-free silicon to make glass and ceramics structurally superior to any made on Earth. The soil also holds titanium, iron and aluminum. landing zone: To protect the outpost from dust kicked up during takeoffs and landings, the pad sits at a lower elevation. The lunar lander shuttles passengers to and from the orbiting transfer vehicle.
— By jancy langley

mines

o B s e r v AT i o n . AreA.

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lUnAr lAnder

haBitat: Living quarters sit high on the crater rim so that power-generating solar cell arrays are in constant sunlight. Inflatable modules—light and easy to transport— could be coupled with a fabric that hardens in the area’s abundant UV light. Another option: Bury structures in regolith—the moon’s powdery rock surface— to protect pioneers from potentially deadly solar

flares and to equalize internal and external pressure on walls.
oBservation area: Separated from the base’s transmissions, and shielded from Earth’s radio noise, this site holds optical and radio telescopes used to search for extrasolar planets, as well as an ultraviolet telescope that uses the moon’s rotation to survey for planets like Earth.

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water for drinking and agriculture. electrolysis could break it down further, supplying oxygen for breathing and hydrogen fuel for moon-to-earth transportation. The lunar reconnaissance orbiter, to be launched late next year, will search for ice just beneath the moon’s surface. Another mission, the lunar crater observation and sensing satellite, will crash a spacecraft into one of the lunar poles in early 2009 and analyze the debris plume for water and other chemical compounds. if the moon proves to be dry, which ground-based radar suggests, oxygen can still be pried out of lunar volcanic rock. combining hydrogen gas brought from earth with the mineral ilmenite, then heating the mixture to 1652 F produces iron, titanium dioxide and water. other , chemical processes can also release oxygen from rocks, given enough heat and electricity. lawrence Taylor, director of the planetary geosciences institute at the University of Tennessee, is developing a magnetic “vacuum” hose, designed to suck lunar dirt into a dumptruck or pipeline leading to an oxygen extraction plant. At first, the power for these industrial processes would come from lightweight solar arrays. A compact nuclear reactor, tucked safely into a shallow crater away from living quarters, might be needed later. The south pole is also attractive scientifically. it lies within the south pole-Aitken Basin, the largest impact crater in the solar system. This 7.5-mile-deep, 1500mile-wide depression, gouged out by a titanic asteroid or comet impact, should harbor bedrock excavated from deep within the lunar crust. mike duke, a retired nAsA scientist, suspects that it also holds samples of impact melts—igneous rocks formed from the collision’s molten splash. examining those rocks would open a window into the moon’s ancient history.

T h e y, r o B o T s
U M A N N E d S P A C E C R A f t w I L L C O N t I N U E t O g R A b t H E d AtA , I f N O t t H E S P O t L I g H t. B y d a v i d n o l a n d [ 1 ] new horizons Launched last between the International Space Station, the space shuttle and, now, the orion crew year toward Pluto at a record-setting exploration vehicle, manned missions gobble up most of NASA’s budget. but lesser36,000 mph—and boosted by a gravityknown robotic missions produce the majority of the science—and unmanned probes assist “slingshot” from Jupiter in can be sexy, too. witness Hubble’s panoramic images of star birth and Cassini’s February—New Horizons will fly by the spectacular documentation of Saturn and its moons. Here are five spacecraft that will dwarf planet in 2015. After conducting the continue this vital work—plumbing the secrets of creation, exploring the corners of the first in-depth study of Pluto and its moons, solar system and even, perhaps, finding life on other worlds. it will be on to the Kuiper belt—a band of icy debris at the edge of the solar system. [ 2 ] james weBB space telescope In 2013, a French Ariane rocket will launch the $4.5 billion next-generation eye in the sky, which has an 18-segment primary mirror seven times bigger than the Hubble’s. Gravitationally balanced at a point 940,000 miles above the Earth’s night side, it will look for the first galaxies created after the big bang. [ 3 ] Kepler Planned for launch in June 2008, Kepler’s wide-angle photometric telescope will monitor 100,000 nearby stars over a period of four to six years, searching for small, Earth-like extrasolar planets that might harbor life. [ 4 ] lunar reconnaissance orBiter Next year’s launch will propel the probe into orbit just 30 miles above the moon, where it will generate a 3D map of surface features, search for water ice, measure radiation and otherwise lay the groundwork for a lunar base. [ 5 ] phoeniX After it touches down next May near the arctic circle on Mars, Phoenix’s robotic arms will dig 3-ft.-deep trenches, excavating ice and soil for analysis in its two on-board laboratories.

•••

2

Tom WolFe

AUThor, THe RIGHT sTUFF

The purpose of the space program is not to maintain superiority in space but to build a bridge to the stars before the sun dies. Homo loquax (man speaking) or Homo sapiens (rational man) is the only thoughtful creature in the universe, so far as we know. If he doesn’t build himself that bridge to escape across, all is lost.

how will residents cope with the hazards littering this airless, blasted body? Arriving crews will unload pressurized habitation modules, like those on the international space station (iss), or perhaps inflate living spaces made of a tough, kevlar-like fabric. For protection from cosmic rays and micro• • • meteoroids, the pioneers could bury their habitats in trenches or heap BUrT rUTAn • lunar soil over them. With no atmosdesigner oF spACesHIpONe phere or magnetic field to shield The next 15 years will see thousands of them, as on earth or mars, lunar people leave the atmosphere on suborbital explorers will need to retreat to flights. My company’s SS2 system might fly these shelters during a solar flare’s 100,000 people by 2024. If it is shown to be highly profitable, perhaps we will see 20,000 deadly shower of charged protons. people traveling to orbit by 2035, and then A lucky find might be a lava cave to thousands to the moon by 2050. If we make insulate the living quarters. a courageous decision, like the program we kicked off for Apollo, we will see our exploring the surface will require grandchildren in outposts on other planets. a better spacesuit than the one i used as an astronaut to help michAel griFFin • assemble the iss in 2001. That suit nAsA AdminisTrATor was too stiff at the waist for easy On the moon, we’re going to have walking or bending, and its fiberopportunities for numerous scientific glass torso and bulky life-support advancements, everything from large radio telescopes to cosmic-ray detectors. But we’re backpack made it top-heavy. The also going to learn how to live and work on old Apollo suits wouldn’t cut it, the surface of another planet before going either: The gloves were clumsy, to Mars. We need to do that. The first time you go to Mars, you’re going to be away even painful after prolonged use, from home for three years. Our maximum and the suits so stiff in the waist experience on another planet has been three and knees that crews found it neardays on the surface of the moon. We should walk before we run. ly impossible to reach for a rock.

living on a hostile moon

1 3 5 4

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dean eppler, a senior scientist at science Applications international, a private firm in houston, has spent hundreds of hours in prototype spacesuits, working out the kinks. “The moon suit is a work in progress,” eppler says, but “compared to Apollo’s, it will have more flexibility for walking, bending and grabbing stuff off the ground, and be much more intuitive to work in.” lighter electronics and improved life-support systems should keep the weight between 150 and 200 pounds, just 25 to 35 pounds in lunar one-sixth gravity. Future explorers will also need an improved version of the Apollo lunar rover, which two astronauts could

drive about 40 miles before its silver-zinc batteries were exhausted. A new model might use solar rechargeable batteries, or electricity from hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells. Both spacesuits and machines will have to cope with lunar dust: gritty, sharp-edged, and murder on seals and bearings. engineers hope to use electromagnetic filters and shielding systems to prevent dust from working into critical components. Taylor is also developing a microwave-powered paving machine capable of reducing damage by turning lunar soil into hard landing pads or roads. To minimize the number of costly cargo shipments, the outpost will need efficient recycling technology.

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Wastewater, including urine, will be returned to a drinkable state using systems soon to be tested on the iss. carbon dioxide will be removed from the atmosphere using a catalytic scrubber that recovers some oxygen. But a lunar greenhouse will offer the biggest benefit. A few plants have been grown experimentally on the iss, but never on a scale large enough to produce usable oxygen or food. The moon’s steady polar sunlight would be ideal for greenhouse agriculture. chris Brown, a plant biology professor at north carolina state University, leads a group that has been experimenting with ways to grow lunar-ready white potatoes, soybeans and wheat. “plants doing photosynthesis are fundamental to life on earth,” Brown says. “That same system should enable us to colonize other worlds.” The brightly lit greenhouse at the U.s. Amundsen-scott south pole station is popular with those wintering over in Antarctica, providing humidity, fresh food and visual relief from the six-monthlong night. A greenhouse, coupled with radio and Tv contact with earth, might be just the tonic for lunar pioneers living a quarter-million miles from home.

•••
congress has endorsed nasa’s lunar goals, but has not provided much money to get the effort moving. The space station and Orion have taken priority over research for outpost technology, space agriculture, advanced life support, nuclear power, rovers and the crucial robot precursors. There’s also no guarantee that congress will approve nAsA’s big-ticket hardware: the Ares v heavy cargo rocket and the Orion lunar lander. Funding may well prove the biggest hurdle. “We know how to explore the moon,” says geologist and Apollo 17 astronaut harrison h. schmitt. “in fact, we are far, far better prepared to explore this nearby body … than were lewis and clark as they planned to head west into the new louisiana Territory. We must go back.“

Big plans, Tight Budgets

s U r v i v i n g l i F e o n m A r s
The red plAneT Will pose exTreme chAllenges To FUTUre explorers. h e r e ’ s W h AT T h e y c A n e x p e c T.

it’s your first hike on mars, and so far things seem to be going well. A robot scout in a nearby canyon sent pictures of what looks remarkably like a mat of microbes. eager to make scientific history, you suit up and head to the canyon rim with your fellow astronauts. To get a closer look, you start rappelling down the canyon wall. The sky is a beautiful shade of peach. life is good.
And then there is a strange rush, a low pop. A hidden pocket of water shoots out, freezing into crystals as it sprays you. “you’re covered with ice. That’s bad,” says John rummel, nAsA’s senior scientist for astrobiology, who offers this cautionary scenario. ice can shut down a spacesuit’s cooling system. “it may be dirty ice that came with rocks,” rummel adds. They could crack open your faceplate, causing your suit to lose pressure. “you slip and fall in mud, and you can’t get up. And if there’s something alive on mars, you’re covered with it.” no one said going to mars would be a vacation. it might, however, be a full-time job, if all goes according to plan. in 2004, president Bush announced a new space exploration policy, a key goal of which is to extend human presence across the solar system by sending astronauts to mars. Though a first step will be to gain

By cArl zimmer

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Mars may never feel like home, but technology is already being planned to make astronauts comfortable there. In this illustration, CG models of potential habitat pods and greenhouses meld with panoramic photos from actual Mars rovers.

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experience with a lunar base, the red planet will pose challenges to astronauts unlike those anywhere else. mars is 250 million miles from earth at the farthest point in the planets’ orbits. sheer distance makes unpredictable weather, unexpected illness and even homesickness potentially deadly problems. residents of the future mars base won’t be able to count on a rescue mission. stand. mars has a thin atmosphere, made up mainly of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, but satellites have offered only crude estimates of its density. “how do you know when to deploy a parachute when the density of the atmosphere is only partially known?” asks david Beaty, nAsA’s mars program science manager at the Jet propulsion laboratory in california. And many other crucial details—such as the velocities of winds that gust along various layers of the atmosphere—are still a mystery. dust storms can cloak nearly the entire planet, and can last for three months. “They tend to happen at the same time each year,” Beaty says, “but they don’t always turn into enormous storms. We don’t understand why and we can’t predict it.” The ideal landing site will be a place where astronauts can learn a lot about the planet while putting themselves at the least possible risk—in other words, a location that’s flat, safe and geologically interesting. some areas around the future base might be designated for human exploration and others for rovers only— not just to protect astronauts from mars but to protect mars from astronauts, as well. each explorer will carry trillions of microbes belonging to a thousand different species, and could spread them across the martian landscape. This would jeopardize one of the chief goals of the entire mission: to look for signs of life. mars started out as a much warmer, wetter planet that may have had an abundant supply of organisms. But as the martian environment became harsher, any life on mars must have either become extinct or retreated to refuges such as underground hydrothermal systems. “you wouldn’t want to introduce earth life into those spots,” rummel says. “When you envision people going to mars, you don’t want them to contaminate things they’re supposed to study.” rovers can have microbes “baked out” in an oven before setting forth. humans can’t—and, rummel says, “The best spacesuits we have are fairly leaky.” chromium—that could burn skin and eyes on contact. And though the thin atmosphere on mars blocks much of the radiation from space, which means that a solar flare won’t be as much of a concern there as on the moon, it blocks less radiation than earth’s atmosphere. “A person who goes there for 18 months could have somewhere between a 1 and 2 percent chance of dying early from cancer,” says Frank cucinotta, the radiation health officer at nAsA’s Johnson space center. And he adds, “We’re worried about the error of that estimate. it could be as much as four times higher.” The crew’s flight surgeon will need to keep tabs on astronauts to catch medical problems as early as possible. rather than drawing blood, he or she might be able to take a tiny sample of each crew member’s cells and measure the activity of genes inside them, looking for changes in the genetic pathways associated with pathogens and with general fitness. But the distance between earth and mars means that if a crisis does arise, whether it’s an ordinary broken leg or an exotic dustborne illness, the astronauts will have to cope with it on their own. “As soon as you kick out of earth orbit and head for mars, it’s physically impos-

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open here For A speciAl grAph oF every spAce lAUnch over The pAsT 50 yeArs.

•••

A long Way From home

just getting to mars will require a grueling five-month trip, under the best-case orbital scenario (“roadmap to mars,” dec. ’05). After weathering cosmic radiation, cabin fever and potential bone loss, the astronauts will have to land safely in an environment that, despite robotic rovers, we still don’t fully under• • •

peTer diAmAndis • chAirmAn, x prize FoUndATion

BUzz Aldrin

ApOllO 11 AsTronAUT

Privately financed human lunar research outposts; fundamental breakthroughs in propulsion; one-way missions to Mars; trillion-dollar asteroid mineral claims; nanotechnology-enabled singlestage-to-orbit spacecraft; first births in space; discovery of nonterrestrial microbial life … this is a small snapshot of what the next 50 years have in store for us. While the stage will have been set by the world’s government space programs, these breakthroughs will not come through the incremental funding of government space agencies, but through the same economic forces that opened the Americas and the American West.

Long-term, I see robotics prevailing on the moon. With the total vacuum and the radiation, it’s a more challenging environment for humans than Mars. Humans will pass through occasionally for maintenance and updating the base, or for entertainment, but I don’t see any need for a permanent human presence there. The most important decision we’ll have to make about space travel is whether to commit to a permanent human presence on Mars. Without it, we’ll never be a true space-faring people.

sible to get back in less than two years,” says robert zubrin, the president of the mars society, an organization that promotes manned missions to the planet. “That’s isaac newton.” Just sending a request for medical advice would take 44 minutes. Ultimately, a flight surgeon may have to rely on robotic assistance. “even the best surgeon in the world can’t do every operation,” says ken kamler, a surgeon who has worked with nAsA on developing remote medicine and a member of PoPular Mechanics’s editorial advisory board. kamler envisions a flight surgeon sending a full-body cT scan of an injured astronaut back to earth. There, a doctor would review the diagnosis and send a program of the appropriate operation to mars, where a surgical robot would carry out the procedure. eighteen months, the length of projected outpost missions, could put astronauts under severe mental (Continued on page 96)

• • •

Wheat plants provide oxygen for scientist Nigel Packham during a 15-day regenerative life-supportsystems test at Johnson Space Center (left). Astronaut dave Williams performs a telementored arthroscopy simulation that may one day provide a template for emergency surgical care in space.

•••
mars will pose hazards to the health of astronauts far beyond those encountered on any previous mission. even the dust on mars is more dangerous than that found on the moon. scientists suspect it contains particularly nasty compounds—arsenic and hexavalent

pushing physical limits

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(Continued from page 89) stress as well. psychologists are trying to understand the potential effects by studying astronauts aboard the international space station and scientists who are stranded for months in Antarctica. But the isolation on mars may be far more potent than in either of those locations, according to nick kanas, a professor of psychiatry at the University of california, san Francisco. kanas has studied the psychology of astronauts who spend months at the space station. They sometimes feel depressed and irritable, but they get a great deal of solace from talking to their families and—perhaps surprisingly—simply from looking at earth as it looms outside the station’s windows. These luxuries will not exist
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on mars. “no one has ever experienced the earth as a dot in space,” kanas says. “it may have a profound effect on the astronauts, making them feel really cut off.” kanas doesn’t think nAsA should rule out the possibility that an astronaut will become suicidal. can be a powerful tool for filling in s A l ly r i d e • Boris nAydenov • gaps in knowledge. phoenix will FirsT AmericAn WomAn in spAce zero-g insTrUcTor, gAgArin land on the northern pole of mars in cosmonAUT TrAining cenTer 2008, and dig for conclusive eviAstronauts Establishing orbital laboratories around dence of water ice. The following the Earth is just the first step. Humans have will remain year, the mars science laborathe opportunity to explore the moon, Mars the explorers, planets. But for that we need to tory—a rover twice as long and the pioneers— and otherefforts. The more countries that unite our three times as heavy as the current the first to go are interested in the peaceful exploration rovers, spirit and opportunity—will of space, the quicker mankind will develop back to the new worlds. examine martian rocks and soils moon and in greater detail than ever before. on to Mars. But I think sir ArThUr c. clArke • it will also test nAsA’s capability it’s really important to AUThor, 2001: A spACe Odyssey to land a large, heavy payload on make space available to Before the current decade ends, fee-paying the planet’s surface. as many people as we can. passengers will be experiencing suborbital It’s going to take a while Another way to scale down the flights aboard privately funded vehicles, before we have the ability risks inherent in a mars mission is built by a new generation of engineer/ entrepreneurs with an unstoppable to launch people for less to spend considerable time selectpassion for space. It won’t be too long than $20 million a ticket. ing and preparing the best possible before bright young men and women set But that day is coming. crew. ideal astronauts for long-haul their eyes on careers in Earth orbit and say: “I want to work 200 kilometers from missions may be slightly older, with home—straight up!” a stable mental health record, and introverted enough to perform well unmanned spacecraft to mars before the first manned without a lot of social interaction. They should also be mission, hauling supplies the astronauts will need. To mellow enough to adapt to shifting goals, contingengenerate power for the long term, he favors a small cies and changes of plan. mars astronauts need to be in excellent physical nuclear reactor. Berinstain and his colleagues at the shape as well—but even the healthiest crew member canadian space Agency are developing greenhouses can get a tooth abscess or appendicitis. “does that that astronauts could use to grow crops. instead of tons mean we should remove all astronauts’ teeth before of food, they could just bring seeds. meanwhile, other they go?” says Alain Berinstain, director of space researchers are working on different technologies that Astronomy and planetary exploration at the canadian will make a mars mission easier. scientists from the space Agency. “should all nonessential body parts be University of north dakota spent this past summer on removed? Those are questions that should be asked.” an Arctic island testing a spacesuit designed for life on mars. it is lighter than the spacesuits used for zeroAstronauts’ most basic needs will pose huge logistical challenges on mars: supplies, food, water and gravity missions, and also better able to seal out dust. energy need to last for the entire 18-month mission, despite the many formidable risks, Bursch doesn’t believe that danger, ultimately, will decide the fate of yet every extra pound of payload requires fuel to lift it into space. dan Bursch, who shares the U.s. spaceflight missions to mars. “i don’t think there’s an equation you endurance record of 196 days in orbit, predicts one of can plug and chug to say the risk for going outside is not the biggest challenges will be simply fixing broken worth it today,” he says. And the potential benefits of equipment. “There were many times on the space stathe mission—revolutionary things like discovering new tion when we didn’t have the right spare part on board life forms and extending humanity’s reach to another and had to wait for the shuttle,” he says. “even though planet—will make some people set those risks aside, the engineers do a great job at trying to guess what Bursch predicts. “i don’t think you’ll ever have a problem finding volunteers to go on a mission from which they parts you’ll need, that’s a huge issue.” The mars society’s zubrin proposes sending several may not come back.” PM
on The WeB for a podcast on the next 50 years in space and more expert predictions, go to popularmechanics.com/futurespace.
POPUL ARMECHANICS.COM | SEPtEMbER 2007

•••

planning for risks

scientists consider these challenges big, but not insurmountable. one way to reduce the risks is to understand them more precisely; unmanned spacecraft

T h e p r i v AT e s p A c e r A c e
As NASA plods on with mammoth long-term programs, nimble, innovative space entrepreneurs are gearing up to meet ambitious short-range goals. fueled by interest in space tourism, as well as NASA contracts to replace the shuttle in 2010, the private “New Space” industry is finally looking like the real thing. Here are five companies that have gotten hardware off the ground.
By david noland

spaceshiptwo

genesis ii

mission
virgin galactic Suborbital tourist flights Commercial satellite launch spaceX Space station resupply Souvenir items in orbit Space station for rent Blue origin up aerospace Suborbital tourist flights Personal deliveries into space Minibooster for tiny satellites

vehicle
SpaceShipTwo, a hybrid-rocket-powered, winged spacecraft launched from a “mother ship” at 50,000 ft. Will carry eight people to an altitude of 85 miles, then glide to a landing. Falcon 1, a reusable two-stage liquid-fuel booster that can lift 1550 pounds to low Earth orbit. Of two test flights, one crashed shortly after liftoff, the other failed to reach orbit. Falcon 9, a fully reusable, two-stage liquid-fuel booster with 20,000-pound lift capability, and Dragon, a pressurized spacecraft that will be either robotic or manned. Genesis II, an inflatable, solar-powered module with 406 cu. ft. of usable volume, was launched into orbit from Siberia this June, using a Russian Dnepr booster. BA 330, a house-size inflatable module with full life support, propulsion and docking systems. Will rent for $88 million per year; partial sublets available. New Shepard, a cone-shaped, autonomous, three-seat spacecraft designed to take off and land vertically. Based on NASA’s single-stage-to-orbit DC-X, cancelled in early ’90s. SpaceLoft XL, an unguided, 20-ft.-long, single-stage solidfuel rocket, can lift a 110-pound payload just beyond the official threshold of space—62 miles—for a few minutes. SpaceLoft Orbital, a 40-ft.-long, 10,000-pound, four-stage rocket, will use both hybrid and solid motors. One-fifth the size of NASA’s Scout, the smallest previous booster.

oUTlook
Burt Rutan’s design genius already put two men in space. With Richard Branson’s money, tourist flights as early as 2009 seem within reach. Ticket price: $200,000. PayPal billionaire Elon Musk has the focus and the financing ($100 million so far) to succeed. Design flaws are being fixed, and two launches are set for late this year. With $278 million in NASA seed money and Falcon 1 under its belt, SpaceX has a reasonable shot at flying cargo missions by 2011. Manned flights will be dicier. Las Vegas hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow has Vegas-size vision and ambition. Two successful launches—Genesis I went up a year ago, sans souvenirs—give him space cred, too. Bigelow says he’s willing to spend $500 million to put his space station in orbit by 2012, but is wisely relying on proven commercial launch vehicles. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos plays it close to the vest with his new toy. Last year’s 30-second flight to 285 ft. by a prototype Goddard craft still leaves him years behind Rutan. First launch last September corkscrewed out of control. Second try, carrying the ashes of Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan, reached 73 miles. Small sats now piggyback on larger missions, with 18- to 24month lead times and take-what-you-get orbits. By 2010, UP hopes to launch to specified orbits in 30-day lead times.

Bigelow aerospace

fIRSt 50 yEARS Of SPACE fOLdOUt PHOtOgRAPHS by gEtty IMAgES (yURI gAgARIN), AP/wIdE wORLd PHOtOS (jOHN gLENN, HUbbLE tELESCOPE)

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