Archive for October 24th, 2009

Human Space Flight – What will NASA be told to do?


This post is prompted by the following articles on New Scientist

NASA at a crossroads?

Does the machinations of the Obama White House place NASA and human space flight at a crossroad?

Certainly, the Aries rocket is program is something which needs to bear fruit. But the wisdom of using a “giant roman candle” is a model which has worked for NASA in the past, but is it a model which is appropriate for the future. The Aries is really two programs in one, the heavy lift, unmanned component and the lighter lift human launch component.

Build a heavy lift rocket which can service the IIS, as a replacement to the Space Shuttle, is an admirable goal. One which I hope continues development, and gets the funding which is so sorely need to bring it to fruition.

The model I question, and timing now precludes utilising it in the short term (maybe :- I’m not sure that this is the case), is the low g force, human lift model. The success of Spaceship One Program from Scaled Composites surely show a “better way” forward to achieve the goal of putting humans into orbit, or beyond. The vertical lift model, has may shortcomings which the plane to high altitude and then  launch model does not have. The shortcomings include:

  • Spending an enormous amount of fuel just to overcome the inertia of the rocket stack. Something which the reusable plane does for the alternative model without the high costs and risks.
  • Having to scale the trust to an acceptable g loading for the fragile human body. This is an issue for the alternative model, but should be more manageable in the “launched from a moving plane model”.
  • Longer cycle times. Rockets and the recycles Space Shuttle solid rock boosters, will take more time to refit, refill, and stack up again, than the plane and capsule model.

I hope that the Obama Whitehouse decides to push forward with human space flight, and provides the necessary funding to NASA to build an operational system. Further I hope that the commitment includes keeping the IIS going, and going to the moon, and near asteroids as well.

But, we will have to wait and see. Will the big spending bailing out the financial system, make committing the necessary resources to NASA to execute this program, is the big question? Will the “bean counters” rule, or will a vibrant future for human space flight prevail?

Long Duration Space Flight and the Human Risks

This is pure speculation at this point. I’m wondering if the following design for a long duration space flight vehicle is practical. Given the following:

  • The earth’s magnetosphere protects all biological life from the damaging effects of cosmic radiation,
  • Extremely powerful superconducting magnets are now technically possible, but require very low temperatures,  
  • High temperature superconductors are becoming available, and
  • Space is very cold.

Could a space vehicle design with a huge superconducting bar magnet as a spine, and the human habitation around the magnet be possible? It could look like a doughnut (the human habitation) with the bar magnet through the doughnut hole. Why use superconductors, because space is cold, and it could be possible to create a magnetic field sufficiently strong to protect the astronauts from most of the damaging effects of the cosmic radiation.


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