Sunday, August 2, 2009

Backers still shooting for the moon

Shelby G. Spires
Huntsville Times Aerospace Writer

Ares supporters say headaches normal part of exploration

Will NASA make its goal of landing on the moon by 2020?

That question hung heavily over the three Augustine Commission meetings held this week across the nation. The commission, which is studying options for the space program at the behest of President Barack Obama, met in Houston, Huntsville, then Cocoa Beach.

Space agency optimists say yes, the deadline will be met, provided the program is given enough money and people to do the job. Detractors point out that the Ares rockets, managed by Marshall Space Flight Center, are already two to four years behind schedule after $3 billion spent and four years of development.

Apollo veterans say development headaches are part of going into space.

"If you'll remember, we were behind at some point or another on Apollo until we landed on the moon," said Dave Christensen, who worked with Dr. Wernher von Braun's rocket team.

"We didn't have a lunar lander that could be flown, and that's why we did Apollo 8 to fly around the moon. The lander on Apollo 10 was too heavy to land on the moon, so they went down to about 50,000 feet and came back as a test.

"Schedules are goals, not historical record."

That NASA has Ares rocket hardware at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and that a test launch of the Ares I rocket is planned for Oct. 31 are proof enough to many at the space agency that the schedule is on track, said Steve Cook, Marshall's Ares manager.

"We are four years into Ares I, and we are at the truly exciting point in a development program," Cook said Friday. "Test articles are emerging, and we're getting data to drive design improvements. We are well under way and are on target for initial operating capability in 2015."

Read Mr. Shelby's full report HERE.

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