Space Exploration Roundup

There have been some rather interesting news articles out lately regarding space exploration. So I thought I'd take a moment and bring them to your attention.

The first article details how President Bush's "Exploration Vision" announced last February is having an invigorating effect on some long neglected areas of study and experimentation, primarily the in-situ exploitation of resources to facilitate human exploration. For example, an unmanned "production facility" could be sent to Mars in advance of a manned mission there. This "production facility" could sit there on the planet's surface converting CO2 into methane to use as fuel for the return trip. Further it could collect oxygen for the astronauts to breathe while they are there and make water for them to drink. Collecting these materials from Mars means that we would not have to loft tons of these necessary supplies into Earth orbit. That would make the trip far less expensive.

Some years ago, a particularly intelligent engineer named Robert Zubrin prepared a plan to do just this and published it in a book titled "The Case for Mars". Robert Zubrin is the President of the Mars Society, a privately funded initiative that is testing equipment that will be needed for Martian exploration and colonization.

The second article details plans to launch COSMOS 1 sometime between March 1st and April 7th using a converted Soviet era ICBM. COSMOS 1 is a 4 million dollar project to test the viability of solar sails. The concept has been tested before first by Japan and then By Russia. These initial tests proved that the concept worked in a most basic sort of way. The COSMOS 1 project will take that investigation to the next level, presenting a first attempt at controlled flight with a solar sail. If you are not aware what a solar sail is or what benefits it might bring to the table, allow me to explain.

Suppose we were making our trip to Mars. To cover the distance between Earth and Mars would require an enormous amount of fuel to be lifted into Earth orbit to power the flight to the red planet. A solar sail however works like a sail on a sailboat, except for the wind that it is converting into mechanical energy is the solar wind. Particles flung into space by the sun are caught in large mylar sails, creating thrust. A ship equipped with these sails could travel away from the sun without using any fuel for thrust.

The average cost to launch 1 lb. into orbit in 2000 was $11,729.00; therefore any reduction in launch weight can significantly decrease the cost of a mission.

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