Son of Apollo
The next lunar lander will be a giant leap ahead of the first.
- By Tony Reichhardt
- Air & Space magazine, May 2006
Illustrations by Paul DiMare
(Page 3 of 8)
The best way to do lunar exploration would be a "direct-direct" option, straight from Cape Canaveral to the surface of the moon. But that requires a rocket that can lift 200 tons to Earth orbit, says Connolly, and "we're just not going to build a launcher that big."
The LSAM lander will go on a large rocket, along with the Earth departure stage needed to reach the moon. A smaller rocket will then deliver the crew (in an Apollo-style capsule called the Crew Exploration Vehicle) to Earth orbit. There the CEV and LSAM will link up, the departure stage will fire, and three days later the still-joined vehicles will enter a 60-mile-high lunar orbit, from which the LSAM will descend to the moon's surface. NASA calls this big rocket-small rocket combo its "1.5 launch" option.
The study team quickly settled on a two-stage lander, same as that in Apollo, with a descent stage topped by a smaller ascent stage that brings the crew back up to lunar orbit following their adventures on the surface. In orbit, they'll return to the CEV capsule for the journey home.
Here the new plan again diverges from the old one. There will be no Mike Collins waiting in lunar orbit to greet Neil and Buzz -- the CEV will be left unattended.
Separating the new lunar module into pieces will be even more important in 2018 than it was in 1969, when NASA's goal was just to land astronauts on the moon and bring them back safely.
This time, the missions are only prep work for something far more ambitious-a lunar outpost where small crews will live for up to six months at a time. The early missions will likely all land in the same location, incrementally adding descent stages and other hardware that will become the building blocks for the new base.
One piece that will be especially useful to leave on the moon is the LSAM's airlock, which represents one of the most significant improvements over the Apollo LM. The moonwalkers of the 1960s struggled with the fine, powdery dust that covered their spacesuits. Back inside their tiny one-room cabin, it got everywhere-in the machinery, in their eyes, in their throats.
Scott said that moon dust even got in the connectors between the backpack and the spacesuits."You could almost hear them grind after three days," he said. He ranks dust as "the major problem for a long stay."