Jeff Hanley – manager of NASA’s new Constellation Program – believes the new mission to return to the Moon is far more ‘serious’ than the Apollo program, from which a large amount of experience and hardware design has been incorporated from previous NASA manned space flight transportation.
The CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) is the centrepiece of NASA’s new direction, one which moves away from the LEO (Low Earth Orbit) restrictions of the Space Shuttle, to exploring and setting up manned outposts throughout our solar system.
Hanley’s NASA experience has seen his career take in a number of important fields within the agency, such as Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston – becoming flight director on two Hubble Space Telescope Servicing missions, before promotion to heading the Space Station Flight Director Office for two years.
A year ago he became chief of flights, before his recent appointment to the current position of responsibility in helping humans return to the Moon.
While a large section of the media are hung up on NASA administrator Mike Griffin’s soundbyte of calling the new Moon transit as ‘Apollo on Steroids,’ Hanley believes the CEV is hugely advanced – even three times larger – compared to the vehicle the likes of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong travelled in.
‘Apollo’s purpose was to send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth,’ Hanley said in an interview with The State Journal-Register in Illinois. ‘We go a substantial step beyond that with this architecture in terms of the capacity to deliver large amounts of mass to the moon.
‘That’s really sending the signal that we’re serious about exploration and serious about coming to stay.’
Utilising elements of the current US manned vehicle system, the Space Shuttle, the new era will see a dual launch approach to manned missions to the Moon, with the SDLV (Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle) being the heavy lift of the lunar module, service module, plus optional cargo, linking up with the crew on the CEV in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
‘In NASA shorthand, we call it the 1.5-launch solution,’ Hanley added. ‘The big heavy booster brings the lunar module and the upper stage to orbit, and we’ll follow it with the crew launch vehicle, which launches on a smaller rocket.
‘(Using this system of separating the crew and cargo on ascent will make) the new launch system 10 times safer than the Space Shuttle. (We hope to debut) the new system in 2012.’
Hanley believes the new roadmap of the VSE (Vision for Space Exploration) to be a correct timeline and procedure, countering remarks that NASA should next aim for Mars, rather than returning to the Moon.
‘That would be like the first explorers trying to circumnavigate the earth the first time they set out on the ocean,’ Hanley noted. ‘The moon is three or four days away with the current rockets we have. Mars is months away. The moon gives us a natural platform to learn from.
‘If you look in general at the history of exploration, it wouldn’t have been possible without being able to live off the land.
‘We have to learn how to use the available assets, like lunar soil and ice, and convert that into rocket fuel and air, cultivating a way station, if you will, from which to test out systems for future exploration.’
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