On the anniversary of mankind’s first footsteps on the Moon, there’s a new rocket team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., preparing to turn those steps into a highway for others to follow.Thirty years ago, Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of engineers and dreamers turned an American dream into reality. That original rocket team at the Marshall Center built a mammoth rocket called the Saturn V that launched the first humans to the Moon. Today, Marshall’s new rocket team is pursuing a dream as challenging and exciting as the first team’s dream more than a quarter-century ago.
It’s a dream that holds the possibilities of adventure travel to the Moon, solar power satellites tapping the Sun’s limitless energy, orbiting movie studios, space hospitals free from the stress of gravity, laboratories in weightlessness where the pace of discovery is accelerated, and a realistic plan to explore Mars and other planets.
In the early 1960s, the goal of the Marshall Center was to design a rocket capable of carrying three brave explorers and their landing craft to the Moon and bringing them safely home again.At the dawning of the new millennium, the goal is to open space not only to explorers, but to the man or woman in a business suit, college professors and students, the soldier, movie producer, artist, and family on vacation -- as well as to the explorer who needs to get to Mars in weeks, not months. And to get them into space more safely than today at a more affordable price.
The goal 30 years ago when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon was to plant the American flag and return home with soil from another world for study.The goal today is to build factories, observatories and hotels and return home with cancer drugs, electronics, love letters and cards postmarked "Sea of Tranquility."
The goal then was to land a man on the Moon and bring him back safely within a decade, and to beat the Soviet Union in doing it. Cost was secondary. Risk was high.
Cost today is primary. NASA’s goal is to lower the cost of launching payloads into orbit from $10,000 per pound to $1,000 per pound within a decade, and to hundreds of dollars per pound in 25 years. Reliability must be increased 100 times. Risk must be minimized.
In charge of meeting those goals is the Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA’s Lead Center for Space Transportation Systems Development. Marshall leads a diverse team from government, industry and academia that is approaching these new challenges from several aspects.
"Everything we want to do or may want to do in space is stymied by the high cost of getting there," says Arthur G. Stephenson, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. "It’s not much more efficient to get to space today than 30 years ago when this nation sent Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon. Back then, national pride and Cold War victory were on the line. Being able to ‘afford’ to win these races wasn’t a question then; the pride of our nation was at stake.
Opening space to the rest of civilization today involves different economics entirely. The advanced technologies that we are working on today are needed to open the space frontier to benefit all humanity."
Today, Marshall engineers and scientists, with their colleagues in industry and academia, are working on lighter structural materials and tougher thermal insulation. They’re designing, developing and building rocket engines that are simpler, cheaper and more efficient for reusable launch vehicles that will operate more like today’s airlines. They’re studying rockets that don’t have to carry their propellants with them, rockets that get a cheap boost from a magnetic catapult and rockets that ride a laser beam into space.
And once in space, according to NASA’s vision, ion rockets 10 times more efficient than chemical rockets will power satellites and spacecraft to the planets. Superstrong tethers, cords that are tens of miles long, will cast payloads toward the Moon. Sunbeams will push paper-thin solar sails miles across toward the outer planets. And starships powered by the annihilation of matter with oppositely charged antimatter will become more than a physicist’s novelty and a science fiction writer’s dream.
On this 30th anniversary of the first human Moon landing, NASA is continuing the dream. Experimental rocket planes are being built and readied for test flights beginning this year. Exotic hardware for trapping antimatter particles is being assembled in a NASA laboratory. And commercial companies are writing business plans to open the space frontier to everyone.
Von Braun and his team were visionaries. They took us to the Moon and envisioned space stations and voyages to the planets. The new rocket team is building on their vision, working on ways to make that dream come true and open the final frontier to us all.
Note to Editors/News Directors: Interviews, photos and video supporting this release are available to media representatives by contacting Dom Amatore of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0031. For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall’s News Center on the Web at: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news
The above story is based on materials provided by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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