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Pence Calls for Landing US Astronauts on Lunar South Pole Within 5 Years

“It's time to redouble our effort,” he said. “It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace"

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astronauts, station batteries
Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended. VOA

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday called for landing astronauts on the moon within five years, an accelerated pace that would aim to put Americans on the lunar south pole.

Pence said NASA needs to achieve that goal “by any means necessary.” Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, he said NASA rockets and lunar landers will be replaced by private craft, if required.

“It’s time to redouble our effort,” he said. “It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace.”

Now, the earliest possible landing on the moon by NASA isn’t until 2028, Pence said. He acknowledged talent — and money — will be necessary to pull it off earlier.

US, astronauts
Pence warned that if NASA can’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organization, not the mission.” Pixabay

Announcement comes with warning

Pence warned that if NASA can’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organization, not the mission.” The space agency must transform into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization, and must adopt an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine assured Pence that NASA will do everything possible to meet the deadline. Some outside experts were skeptical of the new timeline.

“I will be astonished if this happens,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, noting that a lunar lander still needs to be designed, built and tested.

“That is a hard challenge on a five year time scale even without political budget infighting,” he wrote in an email.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. Since Apollo astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972, no country has made a serious attempt to send humans back to the lunar surface.

astronauts, NASA
The vice president instructed NASA to aim to land on the moon’s south pole, where considerable amounts of ice could be used for drinking and making rocket fuel. VOA

Obama eyed Mars

For decades, NASA has flip-flopped between the moon and Mars, a victim of changing presidential administrations. More recently, President Barack Obama targeted Mars as astronauts’ next big destination, while President Donald Trump has favored the moon.

In order to get astronauts on the moon by 2024, Bridenstine said the space agency’s new megarocket will be needed, but its development and pace will need to be faster. Two weeks ago, he said NASA was considering using private rockets instead to launch its new Orion capsule around the moon without a crew on a test flight next year.

But on Tuesday, he expressed confidence that the SLS, or Space Launch System, would be ready for the job. He also stressed the need for an outpost with astronauts near the moon to serve as a stepping-off point for lunar landings.

First time took 8 years

Pence leads the National Space Council. The advisory group held its fifth meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, right next door to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V moon rockets were developed decades ago and where the Boeing-built SLS is now managed. This longtime rocket know-how is why Huntsville is nicknamed Rocket City.

It took just eight years for NASA to accomplish everything to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969. It was unacceptable, Pence said, that SLS delays and cost overruns point to a 2028 target date — nearly two decades after the SLS program began.

The vice president instructed NASA to aim to land on the moon’s south pole, where considerable amounts of ice could be used for drinking and making rocket fuel.

“The exploration of the heavens in this still new century will go forward with or without the United States. But Americans don’t do second place. Americans lead, and so we will,” Pence said to cheers and applause.

Astronauts, NASA
NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, right, and Barry Wilmore work inside the International Space Station on October 1, 2014.
It took just eight years for NASA to accomplish everything to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969. VOA

Planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said 2024 is feasible provided the accelerated effort is funded properly and commercial space systems are fully embraced.

“The moon is a truly outstanding target, both for science and for getting our exploration legs back before we set out to further destinations like Mars,” Stern wrote in an email.

Not enough time?

But former NASA official Scott Hubbard said five years seems “awfully short to me,” given the lack of national security incentives like those that existed during Apollo and the Cold War race to beat the Soviets to the moon.

Hubbard pointed out that both Bush administrations proposed similar far-reaching exploration efforts. “Those didn’t go anywhere and collapsed of their own significant financial weight,” he noted in an email.

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The University of Colorado at Boulder’s Bobby Braun said he’d like to review the budget and details for implementation “as those details matter.” He previously served as NASA’s chief technologist.

“The United States aerospace community is certainly capable of achieving this goal if provided with stability of purpose and the resources to do so,” Braun wrote in an email. (VOA)

Next Story

Scientists Create Map of Wind Circulation in the Upper Atmosphere of Mars

Scientists map winds in Mars' upper atmosphere for first time

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Mars
The new map of Mars winds helps scientists to better understand the workings of the Martian climate. (Representational image). Pixabay

Using data from NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, researchers have created the first-ever map of wind circulation in the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The new map of Mars winds helps scientists to better understand the workings of the Martian climate, giving them a more accurate picture of its ancient past and its ongoing evolution.

“The observed global circulation provides critical inputs needed to constrain global atmospheric models,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“These are the same models that are used to extrapolate the state of the Martian climate into the distant past,” added Benna in the first paper published in the journal Science.

MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission) celebrated the five-year anniversary of its entrance into orbit around Mars on September 21.

Mission Mars
The winds observed in the Martian upper atmosphere are sometimes similar to what we see in global model simulations. (Representational image). Pixabay

The primary scientific goal of the mission is to study what is left of Mars’ atmosphere to determine how, in the distant past, an ocean-covered and potentially habitable Mars became the dry and desolate place it is today.

“The winds observed in the Martian upper atmosphere are sometimes similar to what we see in global model simulations, but other times can be quite different,” said Kali Roeten of University of Michigan.

“These winds can also be highly variable on the timescale of hours, yet in other cases, are consistent throughout the observation period, said Roeten in the second paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets.

Upper atmospheric winds on Earth have already been mapped in detail.

Winds drive a series of processes in the atmosphere that can affect the propagation of radio waves, which are crucial for communications purposes for those on the surface, and the prediction of paths satellites will take in their orbit around Earth.

Mapping Martian winds, therefore, is a crucial step towards understanding characteristics of extraterrestrial atmospheres beyond what we know about processes on Earth.

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The upper atmospheric winds on both Earth and Mars are in the planets’ respective thermospheres, which are areas where temperature increases with height.

This discovery was the first detection of topography-induced gravity wave ripples in the thermosphere of any planet, even Earth. (IANS)