Thursday, May 30, 2019

NASA goes back to space

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
NASA Images at the Internet Archive
In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union took the lead in the space race. At the end of that decade, the United States took over with the Apollo Project, which in 1968 began to launch manned flights (Apollo 7), in 1969 put for the first time two men on the Moon (Apollo 11), and until December 1972 made five more lunar landings, the last of which was Apollo 17. Since then, mankind has not returned to the Moon, although there have been several unmanned automatic lunar landings.
From the 1980s, NASA changed tactics and began using space shuttles for its manned flights. These ships differed from the previous ones because the shuttle was reusable: when returning to Earth, it could land in a similar way to an airplane, rather than descending on the sea, like the capsules of the Apollo project. In all, five shuttles were built, named Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor. 

Challenger accident
NASA - Kennedy Space Center
The first two were destroyed in two accidents: Challenger in 1986, during takeoff, with seven crew members on board; Columbia in 2003, during its return, also with seven crew members. The second accident was the coup de grace for NASA’s manned space program, for it was decided not to build new shuttles. On July 21st 2011, approximately on the 42nd anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, the shuttle Atlantis made the last manned space flight organized by the United States. Since then, Russia has been the only country in the world that has raised astronauts to the International Space Station, and its Soyuz program has been during this decade almost the only space program performing manned flights into space.
These days, the return of the United States to space is being announced. But rather than being carried out, as before, exclusively through a state agency (NASA), this new attempt is leaning much more on a private company. The long-term goal for this company is the organization of manned flights into space, so that people who can afford it may live the experience of becoming astronauts and seeing the Earth from space (space tourism). A second longer term objective would be the colonization of Mars.
The creator of this program is one of those men, famous for their entrepreneurial capacity and the ability to become rich, based on their original ideas and irresistible impetus. We have heard about many of them, for they are world famous: Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (founder of Apple), Larry Page (founder of Google), Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon), and Elon Musk, whom we are going to talk about.
Elon Musk
Photo by Duncan Hull, CC BY-SA 4.0
Musk’s trajectory is varied, not exempt from criticism and controversy. In 1999 he founded an Internet payment company, which after merging with another similar company was renamed PayPal. In 2002 PayPal was bought by eBay for 1.5 billion dollars. Apparently Musk, who was the largest shareholder, received 11% of that amount (165 million).
In 2003, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla, a large automotive manufacturer and energy distributor. Musk joined the company in 2004 as chairman of the board of directors. When the crisis began in 2008, he also became CEO and product architect, positions that he still holds, although he had to resign as chairman in 2018, after a confrontation with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States.
Since 2001, Musk has launched a program of space exploration that in 2002 was embodied in the company SpaceX, with the objectives indicated several paragraphs above. The company has its own launch vehicles (Falcon) and its space capsules (Dragon) and since 2011 has made a long series of experimental launches with NASA support, which culminated on March 3rd 2019 in a Falcon rocket transporting to space a Dragon capsule, which was docked to the International Space Station (ISS). As a result of the success of this test, the launch of a manned capsule is scheduled for July, taking an American NASA crew to the ISS from US soil, for the first time since 2011.
One of NASA’s plans, in collaboration with SpaceX, is to send an automatic capsule to Mars in 2022, which would return to Earth with Martian samples and be followed by another manned mission in 2024. If they were carried out, it would be the first time in history that human beings would set foot on another planet in our solar system.

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Space Exploration: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca

No comments:

Post a Comment