Monday, November 17, 2008

Has USA Lost The Moon Race To India And China

With India's successful moon mission and China's advances in space technology, has USA been left behind in the race to the Moon? I think USA (and the other space exploration countries) got it wrong when they bet on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a reaction to the then USSR Mir Space Station. So basically it is a product of the cold war era. And I wonder if the experiments conducted on the ISS are of any practical use. In fact, I do not think of these experiments as experiment at all. I do not believe that any of what has been accomplished in ISS could not have been simulated on a computer. Basically, the theory is known - no surprises there. I do not consider the manufacture of a perfect glass window to be an achievement. The biggest success of ISS is ISS itself. It is an engineering marvel, no doubts there.

But worse, it took the focus away from moon. For USA and rest of the powers, moon was conquered and done with. ISS was the present and its extension was the future. That's exactly where NASA went wrong. Setting up a space station on Moon should be a less challenging feat compared to ISS. Moon is a stable base. I have a hunch that with the ISS budget it should be possible to make 3-4 ISS on the Moon (And that also means if there is an accident in one of the Moon stations, the space explorers can shift to the next door station - much safer than the ISS.) It also provides the perfect launch pad for future deep space exploration. The only advantage that ISS offers is the distance. It is about 350 km from earth and moon is approximately 384,000 km from earth. Apollo took about 3 days to reach moon. That is not much, is it? And experiments could be carried on moon's surface too. At one-sixth the gravity of earth, the experiments on moon would serve as good points for extrapolation into micro-gravity. And with no atmosphere, moon also serves as a great space observatory. Imagine Hubble Space Telescope(s) on Moon!

NASA is planning to launch its lunar mission in early 2009. It wants to set up manned outposts on moon by 2020. India now plans to send man to moon by 2015. To set up its outpost, NASA needs to send its man mission around the same time. If USA had continued the lunar missions into the 80's and 90's, (wo)man would be playing golf on moon by now. And they all would have been Americans!

So what is next? I am not sure what impact recession will have on USA's space desires. India has proven that it can launch a moon-mission at a fraction of the cost. Collaboration seems to be the only way out. That is already evident - NASA has two instruments abroad the Chandrayaan. Competition in space exploration is wasteful. USA, Russia, India, China, Japan and the EU need to come together and re-conquer the Moon.

Note: The picture used here belongs to G Schouten de Jel. To see more of his pictures visit his gallery.

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Anonymous said...

I don[t see the point in either racing for the moon or for outer space. Maybe it's just me.

Amitabh said...

Thanks for your comment.
Valid point.
I didn't think of an option that negates the race altogether.

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