Forty years ago today Apollo 11 launched for the moon. Yesterday after many delays the ageing space shuttle finally launched for its rendezvous with the international space station. The Shuttle is due for retirement as early as next year. The ISS will de-orbit in 2016 (following in the footsteps of both Skylab and Russia’s Mir ) .
Nasa plans to return to the moon with the decidedly Apollo-esque looking technology of the Orion spacecraft circa 2020…if funding can be found.
Orion will differ from Apollo in that it will require two separate rocket launches from the Earth that rendezvous and dock above the Earth and that all the crew will land on the Moon together and nobody will be left in Moon Orbit. The return to Earth mimics Apollo with a capsule splashdown in the ocean.
Apollo on steroids?
The Orion programme has been described as ‘Apollo on steroids’. But it is a return to where we left off in 1973 after the last men walked on the Moon with Apollo 17. Apollo’s 18-20 were cancelled though some hardware had been built which was used for the launch of Skylab and the Apollo/Soyuz joint project of 1975. This was technically the last Apollo project.
Back to the future?
In 1969 the impetus for the Moon was fuelled by the cold war. Will the next return to the Moon be fuelled by competition from China and India or by the dwindling of resources on the Earth? Or will budget cuts delay a meaningful return?
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