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NASA has a publicity campaign for the next generation of spacecraft. It is the Orion capsule, and it is touted as the spaceship that will take us back to the Moon and beyond. The problem is that all the talk doesn’t match reality.
On 8 July 2011, I stood several miles away from Kennedy Space Center and watched the end of the United States manned spacecraft program. I stood in the warm sunshine of Florida as the last Space Shuttle (STS-135) soared into the sky. Since then NASA has put our astronauts in space by paying Russia to take them to and from the International Space Station (ISS.)
A few months before that last Space Shuttle flight NASA announced the development of a new spacecraft called Orion. The announcement came so abruptly that it seemed that NASA was unaware it wouldn’t have a spacecraft to send humans into space until just before the end of the Space Shuttle program.
Orion – A Spacecraft of Contradictions
The Orion program, for all its hype, seems to have major flaws that NASA doesn’t seem to notice, or perhaps, hopes the public won’t notice. NASA’s description of the purpose of Orion:
For the first time in a generation, NASA is building a human spacecraft for deep-space missions that will usher in a new era of space exploration…and this new spacecraft will take us farther than we’ve gone before, including to the vicinity of the Moon and Mars…the Orion spacecraft is designed to meet the evolving needs of our nation’s deep space exploration program for decades to come. Orion deep space exploration missions…will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock the mysteries of space and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.
Orion a USA Spacecraft????
Lockheed Martin Corporation is designing and building the capsule of Orion. Like the Apollo capsule, Orion can only be separated from the Service Module for a short period of time.
The Service Module is the business section of Orion. It supplies all the power, fuel, oxygen, and is the primary propulsion of the spacecraft. Anyone familiar with Apollo 13 knows what happens to the capsule when the Service Module is non-functioning. The Service Module is being built by Airbus, a French corporation, for the European Space Agency.
In Space, Size Matters
The Apollo capsule had a volume of 5.9 m³ (210 ft³.) Apollo astronauts were able to use the 6.7 m³ (235 ft³) space in the Lunar Module (LEM) during the three day trip between Earth and Moon. The total volume of the Apollo capsule and LEM was 12.6 m³ (445 ft³) for three astronauts. On the return, the Apollo astronauts were restricted to the capsule. Each astronaut had about 2 m³ in the capsule or 4 m³ in the capsule/LEM configuration.
Orion has 8.95 m3 (316 cu ft) of habitable space for four astronauts. This is slightly more cubic meters per astronaut than the Apollo capsule and much less than Apollo’s capsule/LEM configuration. The idea that Orion is capable of taking four astronauts on an eight-month journey to Mars is absurd. Orion is only for use in short-term, near-Earth missions.
NASA has briefly acknowledged the space issue in a video. Amber Gell of Lockheed Martin briefly touches on the need for an add-on crew habitat. She implies that it is an issue that NASA has yet to address. If it takes NASA twelve years to design and build a slightly bigger version of the 1960’s Apollo spacecraft, how long will it take them to build a crew quarters that four people can live in for up to three years?
NASA’s Misleading Video about Orion
NASA has been pumping out videos of engineers explaining how Orion is the next great achievement of the space agency. The videos cover a variety of subjects and some are pre-test and post-test news releases of Orion’s systems and structure. One video features Kelly Smith, a NASA Engineer, who explains how Orion is being designed to deal with the radiation from the Van Allen Belts around Earth.
The 2014 NASA video, titled, “Orion: Trial By Fire,” describes the challenges of the first test flight, including a dramatic description of the dangers of flying through the radiation of the Van Allen Belts above Earth. He explains that Orion will be designed to protect the astronauts as they fly through these dangerous regions.
The problem is that NASA already solved that problem with Apollo. They either fly around the Van Allen Belts, or through the thinner sections, as described by a video by Amy Shira Teitel of Vintage Space, and a video by Paul Shillito of Curious Droid.
There is a radiation issue in space, namely cosmic radiation, and it is a problem on long trips beyond Earth orbit; however, as Lara Kearney of NASA’s Orion Crew and Service Module’s Office explains in another NASA video, that they don’t have the answer to the cosmic radiation problem. This video contradicts the enthusiastic Smith video and raises the question: Does NASA know what they are doing?
Orion: The NASA Glacial-Paced Project
In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Congress to fund a space program to take to the Moon and safely back. From the time of his speech in 1961 to the end of 1972, NASA launched the five of the six manned Mercury missions, designed, tested, built, and launched 10 Gemini manned missions, designed, tested, built, and launched 11 Apollo manned missions, landed men on the Moon, and overcame a disaster that delayed the manned launches for 21 months. Eleven years, three complete rocket programs, 27 manned missions, six successful Moon landings, no prior experience.
Orion, a slightly larger version of the Apollo capsule, only useful for short-term habitation in near-Earth orbit, is taking twelve years. Something is amiss.
NASA’s ‘Look Busy’ Project?
NASA definitely needs more funding, but something else is wrong. NASA’s Orion project doesn’t make any sense unless they are attempting to create the appearance that they are moving forward with a manned space program. The Orion project is, at best, an Earth to orbit elevator. It can’t meet any of the stated manned spaceflight goals of NASA. The question is, why isn’t NASA aware of these issues, and if they are aware, what is the agenda that is causing them to promote a project that is meaningless to the stated goals of deep space flight?