NASA’s first man to orbit the Earth, John Glenn has said a plan to set up a Moon base to facilitate the manned exploration of interplanetary space is a very bad idea. Under the current US government direction, NASA hopes to (eventually) establish the manned outpost for future launches to Mars and beyond, thus avoiding the huge gravity well of the Earth. But Glenn has cited the plan as “questionable,” pointing out that to pack the huge amount of equipment on board the future Ares V rocket will be “enormously expensive.” So what’s the alternative? Build a vehicle in Earth orbit and accelerate it to the Red Planet…
Legendary astronaut and former senator John Glenn isn’t one to keep his opinions to himself, especially when the future of the US space agency is on the line. Back in May, Glenn sent a strong message to Washington: Extend the life of the Shuttle and re-commit to long-term investment in the International Space Station (after all, extending the Shuttle’s lifetime is a bit better than some of the alternatives). His warnings come at a time when there is increased concern about NASA’s “five-year gap” in its ability to ferry astronauts into space from Shuttle decommissioning in 2010 and first scheduled Orion module/Ares rocket launch in 2015. Glenn is not the only ex-astronaut speaking out about NASA’s future. Buzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon and Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, also came forward in June with his worries that NASA will be overtaken by the space efforts of the international community.
So why is John Glenn against the establishment of a lunar base? He was addressing US President George Bush’s vision to set up a Moon base so it can be prepared as a launch pad to further explore space. “It seems to me the moon is questionable as a way station [to Mars],” Glenn said when addressing a congressional committee on July 30th. The hearing was held for a House Science and Technology Committee, in light of NASA’s 50 years of operation and future direction of the agency. “If that’s what we’re doing – which I don’t believe it is – but if that’s what we’re thinking about doing, that is enormously expensive,” he continued. From a financial standpoint, such a lunar outpost will be prohibitively expensive as thousands of tonnes of equipment will need to be launched to the Earth’s only natural satellite.
The alternative would be to build a large space vehicle in Earth orbit and then accelerate it toward Mars, bypassing the need for a lunar outpost. “That to me would be the cheapest way to go,” he added.
Source: Aviation Week