Hey, here’s some topical news I thought I’d mention here as we’re approaching a certain special anniversary this July 20th- NASA has today successfully tested their Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system, an important stage towards its goal of returning to the moon. What I found really interesting is the schedule they have in place, which currently has NASA returning to the moon by 2024. Which really isn’t that far away when you think about it.
Orion looks similar to the Apollo capsule, but this is deceptive- it is larger, able to carry four crew rather than Apollo’s three, and thanks to an array of solar panels will be able to stay in orbit for months at a time. An unmanned test of the hardware will be repeated by a manned mission that will take its astronauts on a long orbit around the moon that will last about 25 days – a far cry from the 8-day period of Apollo 11 or the 12-day period of the final Apollo 17. This is clearly a ‘bigger, further, longer’ equivalent of the Apollo 8 mission, and I cannot see details of an actual lunar lander other than this non-NASA link here so I suspect any lunar landing will be later.
I have seen reports of a Lunar Gateway, which is a planned space station orbiting the Moon and used as a bridge between the lander vehicle and the Orion capsules travelling to/from Earth, and also serving as an eventual launchpad to Mars. Heady stuff. Just thinking about a space station out there brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while the Lunar Gateway is obviously much smaller, I have to marvel at the sheer ambition of it; to my mind still the stuff of science fiction movies, but you never know.
Apollo was certainly ahead of its time and the technology we had; maybe the tech has finally caught up with the ambition of landing on the moon and the grand vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Such a pity both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke aren’t here to see it – but I hope I’m still young enough to be around to see it myself…