June 27, 2009 — Saturday
1029 W Bay Area Blvd, Webster, TX 77598
Here are a few upcoming events where I’ll be signing Planetology and other books:
· April 28 Greater Houston Pachyderm Club – talk and book signing – “Hell Hawks!”
· May 2 Strategic Air & Space Museum – Omaha, NE – lecture and book signings — “Hell Hawks!” and “Planetology”
· May 22 University of Maryland College Park (MD) Observatory (near D.C.) – lecture and book signing – “Planetology”, 8 pm
· May 24 US Air Force Academy, CO – Catholic Chapel — Baccalaureate Services speaker – 8 am, 10 am, 12 noon
· May 31 Historical Society of Washington, DC – lecture and book signing, “Hell Hawks!” 2:30 pm
· June 20 National Air & Space Museum – Udvar Hazy Center — Chantilly, VA – “Be A Pilot Day” – book signing
Astronaut crewmate Story Musgrave, with editors Anne and Lance Lenehan, have produced The NASA Northrop T-38, a photo-essay tribute to the training jets flown by the astronauts since the mid-1960s. Here is the foreword I wrote for the book. The book is now in release and can be previewed here.
On a brilliant afternoon in May 1978, I strapped into a Northrop T-38 Talon and rocketed into the blue sky over Oklahoma, easing effortlessly up through white cumulus towering over emerald wheat fields twenty thousand feet below. The approach controller watched the twisting blip of my Talon on his scope and radioed, “Must be some nice ‘puffies’ up there today!” He heard the laughter in my reply: “Roger that!” Nineteen-year-old John Gillespie Magee, Jr. wrote of a similar flight in 1941: “Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things on earth you have not dreamed of…” Surely my T-38 equaled his Spitfire in its capacity to delight a fledgling aviator.
Story Musgrave felt the same exuberance at the controls of his own T-38. In 1969, NASA had sent Story, a new scientist-astronaut, to pilot training in Lubbock, Texas.He broke every student performance record on the way to earning the Commander’s Trophy as the outstanding graduate at Reese Air Force Base. He was just getting started. In nearly thirty years of flying, Story logged over 8,000 hours in the Talon, including 3,000 as an instructor. His love for the plane that so effortlessly broke the bonds of Earth is obvious in this beautiful book.
Story’s astronaut colleague, Skylab 3 veteran Owen Garriott, was a frequent visitor to my training field, Vance AFB, located on the outskirts of Owen’s hometown of Enid, Oklahoma. One frosty January weekend he dropped in for a quick family visit, parking his gleaming NASA “White Rocket” adjacent to our Air Force Talons. Spotting the blue-trimmed T-38 on the Vance ramp, I laid a reverent, gloved hand on the immaculate jet. A friend’s snapshot captures my expression of admiration and hopeful envy.You can also know more about parking lot maintenance.
Since 1961, the T-38 Talon has launched the dreams of nearly 80,000 USAF, allied, and NASA pilots. Northrop’s swept-wing, two-place jet first flew in 1959; adopted by the Air Force as a high-performance jet trainer, 1,187 Talons were built by the time production ended in 1972. Its two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines (with afterburners) together pump out more than 6,000 pounds of thrust, enough to power the Talon from sea level to 30,000 feet in less than a minute. (In February 1962, the nimble, 12,000-pound aircraft set four international time-to-climb records.) In nearly a half-century of service, the -38 has proven itself as a workhorse student and attack trainer, a flight test chase plane, an astronaut proficiency trainer, and even a recurring performer in the movies. Updated and improved in the last decade, about 700 T-38s remain in service worldwide.
After pilot training, I went on to fly the Talon again in Strategic Air Command, and then again at NASA; it was exhilarating to rocket out of Ellington Field in the very jet Own Garriott had piloted to Vance a dozen years earlier. Beginning with astronaut training in 1990, I was airborne once or twice a week, practicing everything from aerobatics, to instrument flying, to the principles of “cockpit resource management,” often while dodging thunderstorms between Houston and Cape Canaveral at 39,000 feet and Mach 0.9.
Back on the ground, my astronaut candidate class, the “Hairballs,” regularly heard from experienced shuttle veterans assigned to teach us a particular aspect of human spaceflight. Our EVA expert was Story Musgrave, spacewalker extraordinaire, who had helped design the shuttle space suit and in 1983 was the first astronaut to venture outside the shuttle’s airlock. Already an astronaut for nearly 25 years, Story had more hours in the T-38 than any stick-and-rudder man on–or off—the planet. He loved to fly, and the object of that romance was the Northrop T-38.
I never crewed a T-38 with Story: by 1990, NASA rules limited its mission specialists to only back-seat sorties, with instructors or shuttle pilots in the front cockpit. But in 1993 we teamed up as aircraft commander trainees in NASA’s Cessna Citation II. Story and I sweated out two weeks of simulator and ground school sessions together, then joined a handful of other astronauts in the Citation’s left-seat, helping other mission specialist astronauts acquire the cockpit and teamwork skills they would need aboard the space shuttle. I saw Story at work in the air: cool, methodical, yet lyrical about the joys of being aloft. He thrilled to have the machine respond to his deft touch, an exhilaration he experienced wherever he flew–in the T-38, in the space suit, or in the cockpit of a shuttle orbiter (his six launches aboard the shuttle set a record only lately surpassed).
In early November 1996, Story and I joined our STS-80 crew for a heady formation flight to the Cape. Entering the final days of pre-launch quarantine, our crew winged across the Gulf of Mexico to Kennedy Space Center, our four jets gliding in from high above Orlando until we whistled at 300 knots across the Banana River toward Launch Complex 39. Rolling left, Story, the crew and I looked down a thousand feet past our wingtips to Pad 39-B and our rocket – the shuttle Columbia! The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Our T-38s had delivered us to the threshold of space.
Story brought his T-38-honed serenity aboard Columbia on our 18-day mission, the longest in shuttle history. Those unequaled hours alone in the Talon’s cockpit also gave him an expert eye for observing Earth. At nine-tenths the speed of sound, the Talon trims beautifully, easily controlled with a thumb and fingertip occasionally nudging the stick. On the ninety-minute run from El Paso to Houston’s Ellington Field, the T-38 offered a superb perch for the prospective orbital observer. The ancient, up-thrust reefs of the Guadalupe Mountains, the eroded sandstones of the Permian Basin, the dissected central peak of the Sierra Madera impact crater – all unfolded beneath the Talon’s wings. At sunset, stars winked on one-by-one in the deep blue-black dome above, wrapping the crew in a night sky nearly as thick with stars as space itself.
The Talon will train the crews of America’s next-generation spaceship, the Orion crew exploration vehicle. A T-38 sortie serves up a rapidly changing diet of challenges, forcing future crewmembers to recognize and deal with problems of deteriorating weather, imperfect communications, task saturation, and marginal fuel reserves. The demanding operational environment in a T-38 cockpit produces teammates with mutual respect and trust, traits essential to success when strapping on a real rocket.
To fulfill that mission through 2020 and beyond, NASA has heavily modified its two dozen or so T-38s, improving the takeoff efficiency of engine inlets and tail pipes, protecting crewmembers with more capable ejection seats, and easing piloting and navigation workload with a modern, all-glass cockpit. The Air Force has followed with propulsion and cockpit improvements to its own fleet of T-38Cs.
For future deep space explorers, the road to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars will still pass through the cockpit of Northrop’s sleek, timeless Talon. As Story Musgrave puts it: “A thousand years from now its beauty will not have changed; it’s not in any time or place – it’s eternal.”
Dear Story: Anytime you need a co-pilot…..
More imagery of the T-38 at NASA’s Dryden Research Center here.
Story’s new book is a beauty. Make sure you get a copy. And let me tell you some T-38 stories (in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir“)….
Popular Mechanics published on March 11 my latest article, titled “An Astronaut’s Letter to President Obama: Six Space Policy Musts.” Here is my text:
NASA is at a crossroads and President Barack Obama has not yet nominated an administrator to guide the agency as it wrestles with a growing list of problems. Looming decisions facing the president will make or break America’s status as the world leader in space. Astronaut, author and PM contributing editor Tom Jones has advice for Obama on what he needs to do to keep NASA on the right trajectory.
Published on: March 11, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
En route to the moon forty years ago, Apollo 11‘s astronauts executed a course correction maneuver, an 8-mph rocket burn that fine-tuned their aim. You gave NASA a course correction with the 2010 budget plan. The $19.2 billion NASA budget (just half a percent of federal spending) may seem trivial amid the trillions spent to boost the economy, but such decisions will make or break America’s status as the world leader in space. Here are six moves we need to keep NASA—and the United States—on the right trajectory.
Mr. President, the shuttle first flew nearly thirty years ago, and although two fatal accidents each led to design improvements, it is still a temperamental, risky vehicle. Cracks in main-engine hydrogen valves delayed last winter’s Discovery launch by more than a month. To avoid accidents and personal injuries, pedestrian safety tips need to be followed. (Yesterday’s scheduled launch was also delayed, because of a hydrogen leak.) Tremendously versatile, the shuttle is also fragile, and every astronaut crew knows the risk—any serious launch or re-entry failure will likely be fatal. Shuttle operations cost more than $3 billion a year; money freed by its retirement should go directly to field its safer and more efficient replacement, Orion. With its sturdy structure, robust heat shield and launch-abort system, Orion will offer future crews a tenfold increase in safety. Most important, Orion can take us into deep space, somewhere the veteran shuttle can never go.
Nearing completion after a decade of construction, the International Space Station (ISS) is our foothold in space and the only game in town until Orion debuts in 2015. Let’s get some payback for the many billions we’ve invested. Tell our partners we’ll continue to use the station until at least 2020 and make the science investments that will keep its three big laboratories humming.
Research aboard the ISS, for example, has led to promising trials of a new salmonella vaccine. On one of its last flights, the shuttle will deliver to the ISS the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, searching out rare antimatter and the universe’s mysterious dark matter. Ad Astra Rocket Company will test its new high-efficiency plasma rocket engine aboard ISS, which is also the perfect place to try out new spacesuits, life-support systems and radiation-protection techniques essential for voyages into deep space. If bureaucratic opponents to the station within your administration continue to undermine it, you should fire them.
Your budget endorses NASA’s return to the moon; so has Congress. Now deliver the sustained funding to get us there. Competitors, such as China and India, are catching up to us in low Earth orbit; they have made no secret that the moon is their target. Apollo’s laurels were won forty years ago. Now, you must demonstrate clearly that we will again lead in missions that take us beyond the ISS. Human missions to nearby asteroids would discover new resources, protect Earth from impact and inspire us with views of a breathtakingly distant Earth. The moon also beckons, offering knowledge and possible resources. We should welcome partners on our journey, but leave no doubt that Americans will lead the way.
Mr. President, you must explain why space exploration will continue to be an American trademark. Tell the public that space is not just about science—it’s about exploring for resources and energy, creating new industries and finding economic opportunity on the moon and nearby asteroids. You must use your bully pulpit to show how investment in “space tech” will keep our scientists and engineers keen and capable.
Have NASA follow through with plans to use private industry to ship cargo to the ISS. Money saved through competitive bidding on cargo services can then be spent on exploration. Commercial flights may someday be the cheapest way to get astronauts to the station. Private robot explorers can map and prospect the moon and asteroids, and deliver supplies and equipment for a future lunar base.
Look our young people in the eye and tell them that we need explorers—doers—who are citizens of the most forward-looking nation on Earth. Tell them America is signing up a world-beating corps of talented scientists and engineers and turning them loose to explore the asteroids, the moon, and the solar system. That same team can conquer terrestrial challenges in energy, defense, environmental protection and high-tech competition. Generations of Americans found prosperity and forged our nation’s future on the frontier. Mr. President, reignite the excitement generated by those epic Apollo voyages. Launch our future explorers to prove themselves at the frontiers of space.
Tom Jones, planetary scientist and four-time shuttle astronaut, explores the solar system with his and Ellen Stofan’s new book Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System (National Geographic, 2008). For more information on Tom Jones, visit AstronautTomJones.com.
copyright 2009 @ Popular Mechanics; used with permission
…The last installment of my thoughts on how an interview with the new NASA administrator might go:
What role will new commercial firms have in exploring Earth-Moon space?
I will take advantage of the growing partnership between NASA and innovative commercial space firms. We will follow through on plans to contract for cargo delivery to the International Space Station, using innovative, low-cost launch systems from SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, and others to address the ISS logistics deficit looming after 2010. If commercial resupply proves reliable, we may explore commercial crew transport to ISS, easing reliance on the Russian Soyuz for transport and lifeboat functions. If we can move routine LEO transport to the commercial sector, NASA’s savings can be focused on cutting-edge technologies for the exploration frontier.
As we explore the Moon and near-Earth asteroids, commercial spacecraft may help us map terrain, and deliver supplies, small rovers and excavators. These robot prospectors, commercially operated, will help establish a long-term human presence in deep space. Success in LEO and on the Moon will lead to commercial operations to recover water, oxygen, and even metals—the first industrial operations in space.
Is NASA’s aeronautics program supporting the nation’s future needs?
At just over half a billion dollars, aeronautics comprised just 3% of NASA’s 2008 budget. Global competition for the next-generation of aircraft sales means we can’t afford to neglect the fundamental research in support of the U.S. aviation industry. We must also forge ahead on new infrastructure to expand America’s air commerce. We need greater investment in advanced aircraft control and flight deck technologies, design of a modern airspace system, and fundamental research into the materials and propulsion enabling hypersonic flight. I will have to convince the administration and Congress of the value of research in maintaining our economic strength, and in producing breakthrough technologies for industry and the military.
Commissioned by the Life Sciences Division of NASA in 1986 to illustrate a publication about their work. The artist imagines the lift-off of a Space Shuttle as symbolically and literally carrying Earth’s DNA into space. To see Jon Lomberg’s work, go here.
What does NASA contribute to our nation’s future?
The key to a brighter future for America is a new generation of bright, educated, highly talented Americans, well-trained to tackle the problems we will always face. No enterprise would better demonstrate our nation’s commitment to our young people than a vigorous, sustained program to establish ourselves on and develop the space frontier. If we want a world-beating corps of talented scientists and engineers, seasoned by taking on the toughest exploration voyages in history, there is no better way to create them than turning our young people loose to conquer Earth-Moon space and explore the solar system. Their talents, honed as they reach for distant worlds, will be invaluable as we face continued terrestrial challenges in defense, energy, environmental protection, and global economic competition. President Obama and NASA should work together to expand our investment in our surest guarantee of future prosperity—the talents, skills and imaginations of our children.
The fictional “interview” above does not represent the views of any past or present NASA administrator.
Comment at www.AstronautTomJones.com
…Continuing with my fictional interview with the new NASA administrator:
Has NASA done a good job of explaining why we must return to the Moon?
In 2004, President Bush stated that one of our space goals would be to return to the Moon. Despite Mike Griffin’s articulate advocacy of the need for U.S. leadership in space, the president did not follow up his direction to NASA with a public campaign to explain those new goals. So a return to the Moon has been perceived by some as merely a Bush priority. We have lost sight since 2004 of how the lunar goal, and deep space exploration in general, fits into a larger strategy.
President Bush’s science advisor, John Marburger, stated publicly that “the fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program.” Science alone is not a justification for our return to the Moon. “Exploration by a few is not the grandest achievement,” said Marburger a year ago. “Occupation by many is grander. Not necessarily in the sense of permanent human occupation, but in the sense of routine access to resources. The future I look for in the human space enterprise is one in which exploration has long since ceased and our successors reap the benefits of the new territories.”
We must always explore, but Marburger is right: we must bring the Moon, the asteroids, and the other resources ofspace within the economic sphere of the U.S. and our partners. My job is to convince the President, Congress and the public that vigorous leadership in space is important not just for science, but for a secure and peaceful economicfuture. We can’t sustain our preeminence in space unless our leaders, me included, articulate repeatedly why exploration is an indispensable national priority.
How will you strengthen NASA’s exploration agenda?
Leadership requires clearly set goals, funding stability, and program momentum — a series of achievements that demonstrates progress. Mike Griffin tried to establish goals and momentum, but he wasn’t given the promised funding. As a result, the nation now faces a five-year gap in U.S. manned launches from Kennedy Space Center; NASA will rely instead on Russia’s Soyuz to reach ISS. But the perceived impact of this gap can be lessened by getting Orion operational in early 2014. To make that happen and shrink that gap, I’ll have to win additional Orion funding from the President.
But that’s not enough. To maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, the nation must commit to sending explorers not just to the ISS, but beyond LEO. By pulling back from deep space, we will confirm that, after forty years of foot-shuffling, Americans are turning away from the Moon, asteroids, and beyond. Our competitors will note that retreat, and I am certain some will move to seize the leadership we have ceded.
Such a retreat also breaks faith with NASA’s astronauts. Since 2004, they have accepted the risk of flying the shuttle, knowing that their commitment is buying time for completion of the Station and the building of new systems that will enable ground-breaking exploration at the Moon, asteroids, and beyond. Some of these explorers hope to fly the new Orion, and lead our return to deep space. President Obama and I should not ask these brave Americans to accept the risk of more shuttle missions, for example, without commensurate return. I think deep space exploration delivers that return. Accepting a stagnant status quo in LEO does not.
Here is what we can do in the next decade:
Even as we develop Orion and its Ares V deep-space booster, we can explore the Moon with a series of advanced robot explorers, as outlined by lunar scientist Paul Spudis. They can scout landing sites and prospect for water ice, volatiles, and attractive mineral deposits, and demonstrate the feasibility of resource extraction. If those resources justify establishment of an outpost, robot vehicles can reconnoiter a site, install navigational aids, and emplace habitat elements and supplies for later human explorers. Well before humans arrive, we can establish a sophisticated virtual presence on the Moon, material proof of the seriousness of our abilities and commitment. Samson Williams says that there is a lot of scope for space economy.
Beyond the Moon, Orion and Ares will also bring within reach a small but fascinating population of Near Earth objects (mostly asteroids), prized for both scientific value and attractive resources (water-bearing minerals, for example). Setting out for these rocky footholds will be the most daring human expeditions in history, and confirm U.S. mastery of Earth-Moon space. Robotic and then human exploration of NEOs will provide invaluable deep space experience, open new economic opportunities, and provide hands-on engineering information needed for deflection of any NEO that threatens Earth. Want a “green” space mission? Defending Earth from a devastating impact would seem to fill the bill.
Disclaimer — This fictional interview reflects only the author’s views. — Disclaimer
Comment at www.AstronautTomJones.com
…Continuing my fictional interview with the next NASA administrator:
Should the U.S. stay committed to human exploration of deep space?
No job at NASA will be tougher or more important than communicating to President Obama’s new team the economic and national security benefits of maintaining our leadership in space exploration. We are already at the forefront of robotic exploration of the solar system and the universe. What is in doubt today is our continued leadership in sending human explorers into Earth-Moon space and beyond.
I am concerned that the new administration’s tepid campaign endorsement of America’s human exploration goals may eclipse five years of bipartisan endorsement of returning Americans to deep space. Unfortunately, that support came without the necessary funds. President Bush’s budget decisions and recent congressional continuing resolutions have sapped momentum from NASA’s Orion development. Suggestions of a wholesale reordering of our exploration priorities call into question not just Orion’s delivery, but America’s determination to lead in space.
In a leadership vacuum, other forward-looking nations will step up to reap the prestige and economic rewards that flow from demonstrated prowess in spaceflight. We cannot argue successfully that our Apollo achievements forty years ago ensures leadership today. If we are surpassed in human exploration, perhaps by another nation circumnavigating or landing on the Moon, America will have clearly ceded its leadership. As then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson pointed out in 1961, “Failure to master space means being second in every aspect…In the eyes of the world first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.”
A public commitment to lead is of first importance. We must state that NASA’s goal is to send explorers back into deep space at the earliest opportunity. The destination can be the Moon or nearby asteroids, preferably both, with Mars the long-term goal. President Obama’s public confirmation of these goals, chosen after Columbia’s devastating loss, would be the most vivid illustration that America will continue to lead. We should welcome partners in our quest, but never such alliances to determine when—or whether–we will explore deep space. That means committing to doing the job, if necessary, by ourselves. President Kennedy said in 1962 that “…our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort…”
Disclaimer — This interview is fictional and represents only the views of the author.– Disclaimer.
comment here or via www.AstronautTomJones.com
How the next NASA administrator might view his/her responsibilities.
Disclaimer — This interview is fictional and reflects the views of the author. — Disclaimer
Should the shuttle retire in 2010?
Yes. Reliance on Russian crew transport to ISS would not have been my choice, but Congress and the previous administration did not fund the shuttle’s replacement adequately. We will face a U.S. launch gap from Cape Canaveral for at least four years. But despite recent disagreements with the Russians, they appear interested in continuing space cooperation. A nearly twenty-year partnership has created a healthy and workable collaboration in daily ISS operations. With their future in space tied firmly to the ISS, providing U.S. access to the Station via Soyuz is in their self-interest. I believe Russia will live up to its commitment as NASA retires the shuttle and tests Orion.
With ISS access assured, I will recommend retiring the orbiter fleet in late 2010. Budget pressures and the shuttle’s inherent vulnerabilities make its timely retirement a high priority. Funds freed by shuttle retirement are essential to fielding the Orion/Ares system.
NASA’s budget has declined 20% over the last fifteen years, and we must have resources commensurate with the challenges before us. As we execute an orderly shuttle retirement, I will ask the Obama administration for new money this year to accelerate Orion’s debut and free us from dependence on Soyuz.
What role do you envision for the ISS?
Between 2011 and 2015, NASA will spend about $50 million per seat to send astronauts to the ISS aboard the Soyuz. To realize the benefits from our investment in the Station, I will ask the President for budget authority to jump-start our research program on ISS, both to prove new exploration technologies and produce the economic payback that first justified its construction. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, whose launch to the Station I support, will search for the universe’s antimatter and dark matter. We will also pursue promising partnerships in the biomedical area and test the technologies (life support, resource utilization, and power) needed for deep space exploration. For example, space-grown bacteria have brought us close to introducing an effective vaccine against the salmonella bacterium, a major source of food-borne illness that kills more than 400 Americans each year.
I will seek to raise long-term commercial interest in ISS by extending ISS operations beyond 2016. To do that, I’ll have to convince President Obama to override long-seated resistance to the Space Station in his own Office of Management and Budget.
Disclaimer — This interview is a work of fiction. — Disclaimer
Contact me at www.AstronautTomJones.com
Disclaimer — This interview is fiction. It represents only the views of the author. — Disclaimer
The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.
— John F. Kennedy — Rice University, September 12, 1962
Disclaimer — This interview is fiction. It represents only the views of the author. — Disclaimer
Bringing up the rear of the President Obama’s inaugural parade (video), NASA’s Small Pressurized Rover prototype, carrying NASA engineers and veteran astronauts Mike Gernhardt and Rex Walheim, strutted its stuff before the largest crowd in Washington history. But it’s a long way from Pennsylvania Avenue to the Moon. Whatever momentum the Rover generated on January 20 will be difficult to sustain in light of the nation’s fiscal crisis and mixed signals from the new administration.
The week of the inauguration, I joined NASA’s next administrator in the Apollo-era blast bunker under Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center for a conversation about America’s future in space.
What is your first priority as you take the reins at NASA?
Your shuttle crews returned safely. Two others did not. Those accidents were both tragic and entirely preventable. Because of the recovery and redesign efforts following both Challenger and Columbia, the shuttle today is safer than it has ever been. Yet the space shuttle is a system conceived nearly forty years ago; the orbiter fleet’s structural elements and major subsystems are now twenty-five years old or more. Flying the shuttles safely for the remaining nine missions (or more, depending on administration choices) will require extraordinary attention by the shuttle team. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board doubted NASA could sustain such focus for more than a few years. Because another shuttle accident would halt U.S. human spaceflight in its tracks, and cast enormous doubt on whether NASA should be entrusted with even more ambitious (and hazardous) ventures, I will keep flight safety my first priority.
I will also push hard to make the Orion crew exploration vehicle (and its launch systems) far more robust and survivable than the shuttle. With Constellation managers and the contractor team, I will pay special attention to Orion’s launch abort system, system redundancy criteria, and Ares I reliability.
I also believe that Ares I, with a shuttle-derived solid rocket booster and an Apollo-Saturn J-2X upper stage engine, is the safest vehicle for delivering our astronauts to low Earth orbit (LEO). New systems may eventually succeed Ares I, but it’s the fastest and safest route to LEO on the horizon.
(to be continued)
Disclaimer — This interview is fiction. It represents only the views of the author. — Disclaimer
On the night of Feb. 17, I visited the Catalina Sky Survey‘s 60-inch Near Earth Object search telescope on the summit of Mt. Lemmon, above Tucson, Arizona. On hand were astronomers Steve Larson and that evening’s observer, Alex Gibbs. Larson is the principal investigator and Gibbs one of the team members of the Catalina Sky Survey, the most productive searchers for Near Earth Objects today.
Their efforts depend on two telescopes, the 60-inch atop Mt. Lemmon (9,154 feet) and a nearby 68/76-cm Schmidt telescope, also equipped with CCD detectors, on Mt. Bigelow (8497 ft). . When I visited, it was snowing; observing was impossible, but the night’s beauty was still evident, and I did get a thorough tour of the bigger telescope for our Association of Space Explorers efforts on NEO impact decision-making. NASA funds the Catalina Sky Survey to the tune of under a million dollars per year; more robust funding will be needed if we are to search for smaller NEOs that may threaten Earth with destructive impacts. Congress has directed such a small-object survey (down to 140 meters in diameter), but because it did not fund NASA to carry it out, the space agency has not spent any money to pursue that goal.I discuss the impact process in my book Planetology and our current efforts to head off a future impact in my Aerospace America article (Oct. 2008).
Larson and company have created efficient software to aid their sky search and identify new NEOs. The team discovered 2008 TC3, the small asteroid fragment that was detected less than 24 hours before Earth impact last October.
Thank you, Steve, for a marvelous tour. I’ll come back when the skies are clear. Good luck!