NASA mulling over three missions for $650 million grant - either to Venus, the Moon, or an asteroid

Thursday, December 31, 2009

This is a tough decision. NASA will be giving out a $650 million grant to an upcoming mission and has narrowed the field to three proposals - either a probe to the surface of Venus, a probe that would bring back some material from a permanently dark crater on the Moon, or one that would bring back samples from a primitive asteroid.

Personally I prefer the Venus surface mission, but from a long-term point of view missions to the Moon are probably more helpful since whatever helps us to establish a foothold there will be good for us as a whole, including using it as a stepping stone to other parts of the Solar System. This chart shows just how much - delta v from Earth to LEO is 9.3 - 10 km/s, whereas from the Moon to lunar orbit is a mere 1.6 km/s, and after that is achieved then the rest of the Solar System is pretty easy. That much of a difference in delta v means that a craft can either use a much smaller rocket and less fuel (lower cost), or use the same sized rocket but achieve a much greater velocity, or some combination of the two. The Moon would be a nice launching point for low-budget basic probes that would fly by certain targets that otherwise would be too expensive for a mission launched from Earth - a tiny probe launched to fly by an asteroid as it approached the Earth-Moon system, a tiny probe launched toward an object in the asteroid belt for a cheap flyby.

3 comments:

William Wood Field said...

Tough decision? $650 million seems like an awful lot of money to spend to get a cigar box full of pebbles. Wouldn’t it be easier just to go to Home Depot and get a bag of Sacrete and sift it for the aggregate? Then stack up the $650 million in cash at the Smithsonian so everyone can see what extravagance and foolishness look like when commingled. Come on guys, we’re already in over our heads.

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

>$650 million seems like an awful lot of money

It's not. It's less than three days of fighting in Iraq.

William Wood Field said...

Tough decision? $650 million seems like an awful lot of money to spend to get a cigar box full of pebbles. Wouldn’t it be easier just to go to Home Depot and get a bag of Sacrete and sift it for the aggregate? Then stack up the $650 million in cash at the Smithsonian so everyone can see what extravagance and foolishness look like when commingled. Come on guys, we’re already in over our heads.

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