Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Science

Send the ISS To the Moon 387

Posted by kdawson
from the one-of-these-days-alice dept.
jmichaelg writes "Michael Benson is proposing that NASA send the ISS to the moon instead of leaving it in low earth orbit. (While we're at it, we should re-brand it as the 'International Space Ship.') He points out that it's already designed to be moved periodically to higher orbits so instead of just boosting it a few miles, strap on some ion engines and put it in orbit around the moon instead of the earth. That would provide an initial base for the astronauts going to the moon and give the ISS a purpose other than performing yet more studies on the effect of micro gravity on humans. Benson concludes: 'Let's begin the process of turning the ISS from an Earth-orbiting caterpillar into an interplanetary butterfly.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Send the ISS To the Moon

Comments Filter:
  • Problems... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:45PM (#24201803) Homepage Journal

    I like this idea on he face of it, but we are talking about a lot of work. The ISS, as presently configured, is in no way designed to stand on its own without regular re-supply... and we are a very long way from the moon in the sense of the energy it takes to keep punting supplies out to a lunar orbit.

    Right now, in LEO, getting a new toilet up there is still an effort that can take quite a bit of time and co-ordination. Food and other sundries depend upon lifting resources that cannot be generalized into getting a lot further out of our gravity well; we'd need a new generation of lifters to get that done (and, I suspect, more efficient and hopefully at least somewhat less polluting and poisonous propulsion methods.)

    Think over the ISS-related news of the last few years. The oxygen generator failure. The toilet failure. The bad elbow joint on the arm. The computer failures. Solar panel problems. All of these, and more, would have been that much more serious at lunar distances and energy requirements.

    Honestly, I get the very strong impression that the ISS is a piecemeal effort, not up to the quality required to exist at a significant distance from resupply and service; more than once there has been talk of having to abandon it. And that doesn't even factor in the dithering support at the political level — at lunar distances, we're talking huge increases in costs, and that will tend to amplify the politician's waffling in support, if indeed one could gain it in the first place.

    I would much rather see a serious effort put into a large enough work that it would have some chance at self-sustaining operation; a large hollow globe with cultivation, running water, and a manufacturing base. It'd be hugely expensive, but the vast majority of that would come up front, thus reducing the vulnerability to failed re-supply or loss of political support to kill it outright.

    Sadly, I don't see us doing that. We're a lot more likely to commit a trillion dollars or two (of our descendant;s money and interest) to reducing Iran to rubble than we are to seriously attempt to create a viable lunar space station.

    Don't get me wrong, I would love to see us actually get the heck off this planet and start populating the solar system, but the realities aren't just daunting, they're outright Godzilla-like.

    • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lord Apathy (584315) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:52PM (#24201919)
      Instead of putting it in to standard orbit around ether the Earth or the moon can we put it into a orbit where it orbits both? That way it could be used as a spaceship traveling between the earth and the moon. It could be refueled and resupplied as it pass around earth. It could then carry passengers to a moonbase or whatever is up there.
      • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:04PM (#24202165) Homepage Journal

        Instead of putting it in to standard orbit around ether the Earth or the moon can we put it into a orbit where it orbits both? That way it could be used as a spaceship traveling between the earth and the moon. It could be refueled and resupplied as it pass around earth. It could then carry passengers to a moonbase or whatever is up there.

        Try standing on the side of the highway and handing a hamburger to someone who's driving past at 70 miles per hour.

        If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

        • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Moebius Loop (135536) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:24PM (#24202519) Homepage

          If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

          Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time? It seems like that would be cheaper than a vehicle that needed to go that fast all the way to the moon.

          • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Informative)

            by SBacks (1286786) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:35PM (#24202717)

            You are correct, it would only need to go as fast as the ISS for a moment. However, this is space we're talking about, and there's nothing to slow you down out there. Going that fast for a microsecond takes as much energy as going that fast for a century.

            And, unfortunately, the ISS would be going its fastest when it was close to Earth, and its slowest somewhere near the moon.

            • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:50PM (#24202997)

              Think outside the box!

              Take a wire rope that gets hooked when the ISS flies by. On the end of the wire is a supply container. The ISS pulls the container in, docks it and transfers goods out and trash into it.
              Then it can throw the container back at earth again at the most appropriate time (e.g. when it can gain the speed back).
              The container would "land" at sea, for a ship to pick it up.
              New containers would be launched like satellites, and to propel the wire out, a small cap would be blasted off, extending the wire

              I think this would work nicely, with a maximum amount of re-usage and a minimum energy loss, to get a "moon express ferry".

              Okay, for humans you'd have to make the "satellite containers" start and land softer, but this got solved a long time ago. :)

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Fusen (841730)
                I'm not too knowledgeable about this sort of stuff but wouldn't the reaction of the new container being tugged cause the ISS to change it's direction? unless that is only the effect on earth due to friction
                • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Informative)

                  by AeroIllini (726211) <<aeroillini> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:05PM (#24204209)

                  I'm not too knowledgeable about this sort of stuff but wouldn't the reaction of the new container being tugged cause the ISS to change it's direction?

                  unless that is only the effect on earth due to friction

                  Yes it would, if the container was not traveling at the same speed and direction as the ISS, but it happens at the moment of capture, not during the reeling-in period.

                  If the container is moving slower than the ISS (which it would be, I'll get to the speeds in a second), then at the moment of capture the wire would impart an impulse force on the ISS, due solely to the inertia of the container. This would slow the ISS down, and would require a reboost burn to get it back up to transfer speed. Once the container and the ISS have reached equal speeds (some speed less than the original ISS speed and greater than the original container speed, proportional to the ratio of masses), then the ISS-container combination are now in orbit as a single object. The line of the orbit is technically at the barycenter of the two object system, and that barycenter will shift slightly as the container is reeled in, but we can safely assume that since the ISS is many orders of magnitude more massive than the container, the barycenter will be very close to the center of the ISS and will not shift an appreciable amount during reel-in.

                  Now, speeds. The apogee speed of a lunar transfer orbit is approximately 11 km/s (24,600 mph). This is the speed the ISS would be traveling at close approach to the Earth, and also the maximum speed and minimum altitude of the orbit. The shuttle is capable of launching to an altitude of 217 nautical miles, which in a circular orbit is a speed of about 7.7 km/s (17,160 mph). The ISS would have to catch a wire traveling at a relative speed of 3.3 km/s (7,440 mph), and the rebound in the cable alone would doom the ISS, not to mention the tremendous stresses placed on both objects to essentially accelerate the container to that speed in the space of a second or so. Capture from two different orbits is simply not feasible; it's much safer to have both objects traveling at the same speed in the same direction for capture, and if you have to boost the container to a lunar transfer orbit speed, you have just used the same amount of energy as simply sending it to the moon.

                  IAARS (I Am A Rocket Scientist)

              • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Informative)

                by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:33PM (#24203721) Homepage Journal

                But the new supplies (and container) still end up going just as fast, which means it's still taken just as much energy to accelerate them. Only in this case, the energy comes from slowing down the station, so either you have to speed it back up (just as energy-intensive and therefore expensive as accelerating the supplies beforehand) or it drops into a lower orbit because it's going slower now.

                There's also the minor issue that paint chips going at orbital speeds can punch holes in things, so catching a cargo container at similar speeds would be rather hazardous to your wellbeing.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by credd144az (1078167)
                And I think your are missing the fact that a large amount of the mass on the container would be transferred to the ISS.

                The hook and line idea would require the two have the two objects connected and rotating around some point on the wire, as an external center of gravity (two masses combined). You would be forced to use centripetal force ( Obligatory [wikipedia.org]) to "slingshot" the ISS back towards the moon.

                Picture two water balloons attached by a string/straw. One empties into the other and as it does, it has le
          • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:37PM (#24202753) Journal

            Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time?

            Remember inertia. The cheapest thing you can do is simply move inertially. Moving to high speeds, then slowing back down, is twice as hard as moving to high speeds and staying there. There's absolutely no equivalent of "speed bursts" in space. (Heck, it's not even a very good intuition for things moving around on Earth, either.)

            Orbital mechanics can absolutely not be approached intuitively, until you've completely retrained your intuition. It's right up there with QM, in that regard, though IMHO easier to learn the basics of.

            • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Informative)

              by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:46PM (#24202913)
              I highly recommend Orbiter [ucl.ac.uk] for anyone really interested in seeing how orbital mechanics work. It's a fun sim (with a steep learning curve), but there's something satisfying about knowing how to figure an orbital engine burn.
            • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Informative)

              by Miamicanes (730264) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:27PM (#24205459)

              One thing that probably needs to be mentioned, since it's not necessarily obvious to anyone who hasn't taken physics: spacecraft in their current incarnation don't use their engines to keep them moving... they use their engines to rapidly propel themselves to a speed that's hopefully sufficient to reach their final destination (or next gravity waypoint) before the Earth's own gravity manages to pull them back. The shuttle & ISS fire their engines to alter their orbits and nudge themselves around, but once the shuttle is in orbit, it ALREADY has to be going in the right direction at the right speed to eventually rendezvous with the ISS. If there were another space station at a higher altitude, the current shuttle couldn't visit the ISS, then go visit space station #2... at least, not without refueling somehow, because it doesn't carry enough fuel to radically alter its orbit to a higher destination.

              That's the main reason why using the shuttle to service Hubble is so dangerous... it has to use most of its fuel to get there, and literally returns to Earth "on the fumes" (so to speak). Think of it as driving up a road along the side of a mountain in a car with mostly-empty gas tank, with *just* enough fuel to make it to the top... then using that final bit of gas to turn around, and coast all the way back down the mountain. If the shuttle encounters a serious problem en route to Hubble, it doesn't have enough fuel to reach the ISS, and no spacecraft already docked at the ISS has enough fuel left to reach the imperiled shuttle, so there's no metaphorical "tow truck" to rescue them.

              It's also the reason why spacecraft have to rapidly accelerate to multiple Gees, instead of taking off like a jet and just circling the Earth over and over, getting a little higher each time. When the solid rocket boosters are ignited, they burn in a predictable way, but there's no way to gracefully throttle them "up". They do their thing, run out of fuel, and quit -- hopefully (and by design) after the shuttle is already going fast enough for the liquid fueled engines to get it the rest of the way to its destination.

              That's one reason why nuclear engines were so eagerly explored during the 60s... they were the only potentially-viable way to achieve the kind of slow, steady, long-term acceleration that would have permitted a "space plane" to take off and slowly travel to orbit without subjecting its passengers to the usual Gee forces experienced by astronauts. Unfortunately, when you've got a populated planet below with lots of high-value real estate and residents below, nuclear-fired jet/rocket engines just aren't going to happen. People get neurotic about the use of RPGs, which are basically sealed nuclear batteries that generate heat from their own decay and generate electricity using technology that works not unlike solar cells (but with heat, rather than light)... and they probably WOULD make it safely back to Earth if something went wrong on the way up. As such, a real, honest-to-got nuclear REACTOR running at full-bore in a moving vehicle flying anywhere near anything resembling a populated area just isn't going to happen ;-)

          • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:39PM (#24202775) Homepage Journal

            If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

            Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time? It seems like that would be cheaper than a vehicle that needed to go that fast all the way to the moon.

            Are you joking? Am I gonna get a well-deserved "whoosh" for this reply?

            If you're going the same direction and the same speed as something that's orbiting in such a way that it'll get to the moon, then you could climb inside and ride with it to the moon - or you could just chill out and get there on your own. Your speed would continue to match that of the orbiting station, because you would, in fact, be in the same orbit...

            • by rabiddeity (941737) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @08:20PM (#24206075) Homepage

              Am I gonna get a well-deserved "whoosh" for this reply?

              Don't worry, there's not sufficient atmosphere in space to make a 'whoosh". And even if there were, there's no medium to carry it.

              Or...

              If a joke flies through space, and there's nobody there to hear it, it still doesn't make a sound.

            • This is slashdot and I think it's safe to assume he's joking, now the general population though would raise that as a valid question. Just look at the movie "Mission to Mars" (or don't, it blows). Lets just say that if the writers knew a little about physics they would have known that one of the main characters didn't have to die...

              After all, if someone was tumbling in space and you accelerated to start to catch up to them, the moment you start to close the gap you are already going faster than them and wi

        • Lagrange Points? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Acer500 (846698) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:57PM (#24203109) Journal
          Why not take a page from all those sci-fi books and put it in a Lagrange Point?

          (according to Wikipedia, several missions are planned there already)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point [wikipedia.org]
          • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:38PM (#24203789)
            All those Lagrange points are filled with litter and wrecks of past Gundam fights.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MadnessASAP (1052274)

            Becuase boosting the ISS to L1 require only slightly less energy then boosting it to the moon, and then on top of that you have to keep on making small adjustments to hold it there since only L4 and L5 actually attract objects into them. And finally for the aforementioned reason you're still going to have a bitch of a time getting supplies to the station.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by joggle (594025)

        That would be bad for several reasons. One, the astronauts would repeatedly go through the Van Allen Belt getting exposed to higher radiation. Two, it doesn't help reduce the energy requirements to get to the space station. Just because it's closer doesn't mean it takes less energy -- it would simply be in an elliptical orbit and travel at a higher velocity at the closest approach. You would still need to get an object to a matching orbit in order to dock with it. The only thing it would gain you is it woul

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by bugs2squash (1132591)
        Can't we fill it with concrete, let it gradually build up to an obit around Earth and Mars using Ion power - perhaps over a decade or two, and then lasso it as it passes Earth (with a stretchy lasso obviously). Perhaps another job for the space cowboys.

        When we get to mars we just re-enter to slow down.

        Repeat for the journey home.

        Then again, perhaps I should leave the rocket science to the brain surgeons...
      • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Informative)

        by mabhatter654 (561290) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:24PM (#24203557)

        You'd want to put it at the earth-moon L4 and L5 Lagrange points. Then it would be equally "uphill" from both bodies, but in a statically stable orbit. Such an orbit would be good for resupply stations and emergency facilities as it would be in space, easier to get to. At the "halfway" point, you need your momentum to continue the journey and need the same momentum to get to the point anyway so you wouldn't want to kill it all slowing down to stop.

        The point would be to put something interesting at these points so we could have regular supply missions.. that means the simple repairs like ISS has had actually get done on time. If we could make fuel ON the Moon we'd greatly benefit from a space-based system and only have to do heavy lifting to get stuff from the earth to the closest space-base. Then we can work on putting bases at the Solar-earth Lagrange points to start exploration.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Smidge207 (1278042)

      Until we tera-form Mars there will be no populating the solar system. Think of it like living in Las Vegas: everything has to be trucked in or the whole thing dies.

      That to me doesn't sound like populating the solar system as much as staking an extended out-post dependent on cheeseburgers trucked in from the home-world.

      • Problem: Terraform Mars

        Two-fold solution: Have satellite in orbit drag device through atmosphere pumping CO2 up into orbit and making blocks of dry ice, than ram driving them towards Mars. Huge dry ice blocks will impact Mars, change from block of dry ice into gaseous form, and begin greenhouse warming effect. We terraform Mars on the cheap (comparatively speaking) and we lower the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere from all the fossil fuels we'll be burning.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Until we tera-form Mars there will be no populating the solar system.

        well, no. but moving on:

        Think of it like living in Las Vegas: everything has to be trucked in or the whole thing dies.

        That to me doesn't sound like populating the solar system as much as staking an extended out-post dependent on cheeseburgers trucked in from the home-world.

        I like your metaphor for at least two reasons.
        Las Vegas is real; it can be done.

        2d, you seem to be saying Mars would be colonized based on an an economy of gambling, prostitution, money laundering, and low regulation.

        Heck, it worked for the internet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Starglider (1326489)
      Yeah, my first thought was the astronomical (sorry) amount of fuel that would be required for simple resupplies. The materials, labor, and expense could be mitigated by future implementations of the space elevator (liftport), but it would be an obscenely unnecessary publicity stunt.

      Still, it's more likely that we'll get involved in colonization through efforts like this than gradual implementations of efficient or even practical ideas. NASA has a history of using publicity stunts as budget propellant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jandrese (485)
      Really, a vehicle designed to orbit the moon needs a lot of things the current ISS is not designed to provide, like cosmic ray protection (no Van Allen belts on the moon!), greatly improved recycling facilites, and in general would have to be a lot more autonomous than the ISS currently is. Trying to rebuild the ISS to be all of that is almost certainly more work than building a whole new vehicle from scratch, if only because you'd have to do all of the work on the ISS while keeping it habitable by people.
      • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:24PM (#24202523) Homepage Journal

        The thing about a moon base, as compared to an orbital lunar station, is that it is of most benefit to the moon, and not anything elsewhere, because in order to supply from there, the vehicle has to go down into the lunar gravity well. This limits resupply to vehicles that are landers, or in other words, not pre-constructed space stations, which would really be a shame -- you'd have to have lifters from the moon's surface bring them anything they needed in ready form; a space station can do the manufacturing from raw materials, which can be mass-driven off the surface without regard for stress or breakage. A space station can also launch various small probes at almost no cost, on almost a continuous basis. Anything from network switches to remote telescopes; we need some kind of base outside of a major gravity well because the advantages such a base offers simply cannot be duplicated down any such well.

        I don't think a lunar space station could exist for long without a moon base; but I think a moon base without a lunar space station is very nearly pointless.

    • by scuba_steve_1 (849912) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:45PM (#24202905)

      astrobill wrote:

      As a space physicist and engineer, I praise Mr. Benson's enthusiasm for space exploration. However, I feel compelled to explain to him and the millions of Post readers he was allowed to mislead why his idea to send the International Space Station (ISS) on interplanetary jaunts is wholly unrealistic, and frankly, impossible.

      For one thing, the shielding, wall thicknesses, and many other design aspects of the ISS were chosen to protect crews from the worst-case radiation environment known to exist throughout its present orbital environment. The ISS spends its entire time wholly within the protective cocoon of the Earth's magnetosphere, a complex electromagnetic structure generated within the Earth which also happens to protect the Earth from most forms of high energy cosmic rays and other ionizing particles. The ISS design is wholly unsuitable for long-duration jaunts outside this region and could not easily or practically be changed at this point to accommodate a different environment.

      Secondly, Mr. Benson's proposal to simply connect engines to the ISS and launch it away from Earth and onto interplanetary trajectories completely ignores the fact that every source of propulsion he cites would impart accelerations, even small ones for certain scenarios, that the ISS structure, joints, and arrays simply cannot accommodate -- the structure would simply exceed design tolerances under any source of thrust sufficient to launch it out of Earth orbit and on a transfer trajectory around the Sun to another Solar System body. Moreover, even the low-thrust ion engines Mr. Benson cites (actually, low "specific impulse," but that's another lesson...) would be unable to launch the ISS onto a transfer orbit to another solar system body, and certainly not on any reasonable timescale. It would be, perhaps, years before Mr. Benson's hypothetically-suitable ion engines could impart enough added velocity ("delta-V" to engineers) to move the ISS into an appreciably higher orbit, much less on a suitable trajectory to another planet in our Solar System. The ISS would require thousands of miles per hour of additional velocity to be placed onto such an orbit, regardless of the engine type used.

      Thirdly, Mr. Benson's essay completely ignores the fundamental fact that even the most efficient transfer orbit between Earth and, say, Mars, requires at least 8-9 months each way, not to mention the time spent actually DOING anything once there. The ISS is simply unable to hold enough food, water, air, and other "consumables" for any sized crew for the duration of any mission of the type Mr. Benson has in mind. And "direct" trajectory missions that ignore the more efficient transfer trajectories require so much acceleration that the ISS would simply flex and buckle were an attempt made.

      Forth, the amount of power the ISS solar arrays can generate is fundamentally tied to the solar energy received on their surfaces. Some of the interplanetary bodies Mr. Benson proposes visiting are at locations too far from the Sun for the arrays to generate enough power to operate systems on board. For example, the ISS solar arrays at Mars would receive only about half as much solar energy per square meter as they do at Earth. The ISS simply cannot accommodate hanging enough "extra" solar panels on its structure to make up for the difference, and wiring in new, additional power sources would require wholesale redesign of the ISS.

      There are about a dozen other significant reasons why sending the ISS on interplanetary missions is completely unfeasible from a technical perspective, and which time an space prohibit me from addressing here.

      Mr. Benson's claim that "...there are good answers to all these objections..." and his attempt at preemptive criticism of "skeptics" -- as well his claim that NASA is not "particularly welcoming to outside ideas" -- does not obviate the laws of physics, engineering limitations, much less the laws of astrodynamics and the hostile environment of our solar system.

      And contrary

      • Translation (Score:5, Funny)

        by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:13PM (#24203377)
        Hey Mr journalist with an English major. Leave the thinking to someone who understands basic stuff like gravity, energy etc.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jfengel (409917)

        It is disappointing that the Washington Post would run something like this without running it past at least one person with an engineering degree.

  • Nah... (Score:4, Funny)

    by stretchpuppy (1304751) <`stretchpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:49PM (#24201873)

    Send that POS into the sun. Good riddance.

  • by jamie (78724) * Works for Slashdot <jamie@slashdot.org> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:50PM (#24201881) Journal

    My quick Wikipedia-based calculations are that the ISS could match orbits with the moon in 9.2 years if its solar panels were entirely devoted to powering ion engines.

    (They wouldn't be, of course, and my other major omission is the need to orbit the moon -- I have no idea how the moon's gravity would perturb the ISS as it approached, I suppose it would increase or decrease orbital transfer efficiency but I don't know which.)

    Sources:

    Low-thrust transfer [wikipedia.org] - "going from one circular orbit to another by gradually changing the radius costs a delta-v of simply the absolute value of the difference between the two speeds"

    Ion engine comparisons [wikipedia.org] - 25 kW can produce 1 N thrust

    ISS Solar Arrays [wikipedia.org] - 4 pairs of "wings" to be installed on ISS, totalling 262 kW (I think; might be half that [wikipedia.org] if I misunderstood "wing"); ISS weighs 1 million pounds

    Moon's orbital velocity [wikipedia.org] = 1.0 km/sec, ISS's orbital velocity [wikipedia.org] = 7.7 km/sec

    Google says: 9.2 years [google.com]

    • 1. Rename it from "ISS" to "Alice".
      2. Bang! Zoom!
      3. Straight to the moon
      4. Profit!

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by AZScotsman (962881)
      No need to "orbit" the Moon, stick it out at L1 - the LaGrangian point between the Moon and Earth. Or any of the other points. For the less-than-cosmically-aware http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point [wikipedia.org]
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Keeping something at the LaGrange point is probably just as difficult as balancing a marble on top of another marble. You have to fight drift - and the further you drift the more gravity you are effected by.

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:50PM (#24201891) Homepage
    In various science-fiction novels, such as Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars [amazon.com] , old booster rockets are put up into orbit and linked to form space stations instead of just being throw away. Why has NASA never realized that idea? We'd have all the infrastructure in orbit we wanted, and for a very low cost.
    • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:56PM (#24201977) Homepage Journal

      Because old booster rockets are heavy, and the energy to get them into orbit has to come from somewhere. When we shot a big Apollo, for instance, most of it didn't reach orbit, much less the moon — just fell back to earth. And even then, they were light, empty of fuel. In the end, there was just enough energy available to send a tiny, tiny capsule to the moon.

      What you want to do is put heavy rockets in order with fuel. They have to get there somehow, and contrary to Robinson's optimism, we don't have a viable space elevator anywhere in sight. We'd have to do it the (very) hard way.

      My old friend Tony Splendora likes to say, with regard to physics and fast vehicles, "There are some laws you just can't break." That applies here as well; getting something heavy into orbit is hard.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pintpusher (854001)
        my vision of this is a space shuttle-like launch vehicle where the entire cargo bay is removable. Leave one up there on every trip. I suppose there might be some aerodynamic issues on the return trip...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Just a slight correction, of the 16 Saturn V rockets built for the Apollo program, 5 Stage 4 components are now in a solar orbit and another 5 made it all the way to the lunar surface.
  • And does he have the sufficent knowledge to be making and backing up these crazy suggestions?
    • by jfengel (409917)

      According to the Wiki page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Benson), he's an writer and filmmaker. The closest thing he has to a qualification is a book of reprocessed images from space probes.

      Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes.

      Yes, I'm sure it's the same guy. Both the article and this wiki page cite the same book. Also, the Wiki page says he's "living in Slovenia", and the article includes a .si email address.

  • Not feasible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zerbey (15536) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:51PM (#24201907) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I thought this was a cool proposal until I started thinking about it..., these are the ones that came into my head immediately:

    * The ISS may be designed to be boosted into a higher orbit, but this is not the same as the stresses involved with a Trans-Lunar injection boost. It would have to have the entire structural integrity improved which would be VERY expensive.

    * Yes, solar panels would work at the moon but the whole directional system would have to be redesigned and the number of panels probably increased.

    * The resupply craft are not designed to go to the moon nor is there a booster (currently) available that could take them there. We'd need a whole new booster built to even get them close.

    * Our current proposal is to put a base ON the moon. There's really not much to be gained by creating, or moving, a space station into lunar orbit. You certainly couldn't land the ISS on the moon (well you *could* I guess but it'd take some serious engineering!).

    • Re:Not feasible (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:15PM (#24202379) Homepage Journal

      The other problem is that the ISS isn't designed to handle radiation that far out. If I remember correctly the moon is outside the Van Allen belts. Radiation from Solar Flares would be much higher. I am not sure that the electronics are shielded enough to handle it. Even if they where you would have too add an improved storm shelter for the crew.
      Other than that it is an interesting idea.
      Boosting it wouldn't be that bad. No need to beef it up if you used ION engines. A nuclear powered Ion engine or one with a lot of extra solar cells would be needed to do it in a reasonable amount of time.
      I am not fond of the Aries vehicles. I would rather see a next generation Saturn.
      An Improved Saturn 1b that using the F-1A (test fired back in the late 60s) and an AL/LI first stage and an AL/LI second stage using the J2S would seem like a good plan.
      An improved Saturn V again with F-1As would be make a good heavy lifter. If you want more lift strap on some SRBs and get a really big lift.

      Building a Saturn V today would be stupid. But a next gen Saturn V and Ib could be done and probably done pretty quickly. We have the plans we would just have to build the tooling for the motors, The tanks could be based on the Shuttle ET and the electronics are now easy.
      Retrofitting the VAB and the pads would probably be the hard part.

  • by maniac/dev/null (170211) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:52PM (#24201921) Homepage

    We better move quick, the Chinese are going to do this in 2010 if I recall.

  • Lumpy Gravity (Score:5, Informative)

    by Detritus (11846) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:55PM (#24201971) Homepage
    Bad idea. The Moon has a lumpy gravitational field. This makes it very difficult to keep anything in a stable orbit. Look up lunar mascons.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:57PM (#24202005)

    FTFA:

    "The ISS, you see, is already an interplanetary spacecraft -- at least potentially. It's missing a drive system and a steerage module, but those are technicalities."

    On that basis my house, next-door's cat and G.W.Bush's arse are also "potentially" interplanetary spacecraft. It's only "technicalities" that prevent them from being so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LeandroTLZ (1163617)

      On that basis my house, next-door's cat and G.W.Bush's arse are also "potentially" interplanetary spacecraft. It's only "technicalities" that prevent them from being so.

      Your house and the cat can stay on Earth, I vote we send G.W.Bush's arse on an interplanetary cruise. I hear Pluto is lovely this time of the year.

  • Cosmic Ray problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@[ ]ch.edu ['umi' in gap]> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:58PM (#24202035)

    One major problem that the author ignores is cosmic rays. In Low Earth Orbit, the ISS is protected from cosmic rays and the solar wind by the Van Allen belts. If you move it out to the moon it won't have this protection any more and the occupants would be exposed to high energy particls much more so than in low earth orbit. I'm not sure of the level of shielding on the ISS but it's probably insufficient to protect the crew.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:00PM (#24202059) Journal
    The ISS should be left where it is. It should outfitted so that it can serve as a "dry dock" for building the manned Mars mission.
    • by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@[ ]ch.edu ['umi' in gap]> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:03PM (#24202137)

      The inclination of the ISS orbit is too great with respect to the plane of the solar system. If I remember right it's inclined by 56 degrees to allow the Russian rockets easier access.

      With this orbit it's essentially useless for a "dry dock" since too much energy would have to be expended in changing the inclination to match the solar system.

    • Agreed. Moving it to the moon is a nice idea but accomplishes nothing practical, apart from making it harder to resupply. If we are to use the ISS as a building point it's going to be easier to get the materials up to it while it's in low earth orbit.

      That said it could do with some thrusters of its own anyway, in case it needs repositioning and a mission gets delayed.
  • by Lord Apathy (584315) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:01PM (#24202079)

    One thing that I've wondered is why can't the space shuttles be refit for moon missions? I know they are designed only for low orbit. Put extra fuel tanks in the cargo bay as well as several landers. With extra payload capacity of a shuttle and larger crew several places could be explored on the same mission.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dunbal (464142)

      One thing that I've wondered is why can't the space shuttles be refit for moon missions? I know they are designed only for low orbit.

            How to answer your own question.

    • I am not an engineer. However, being a youtube addict, I believe these highly technical videos will explain why that will not work.

      http://youtube.com/watch?v=kV7PUq-CUuc [youtube.com]
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=q7Hfr5fVPd4 [youtube.com] (Yes, that IS Sonny Bono)
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=DR1q-V4XYjI [youtube.com]

      But on the other hand, you DO get Shatner.
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=dHKd80asXy4 [youtube.com]
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=ywvF71tRR2c [youtube.com]

      It would take some kinda miracle, or something.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The cargo capacity of the shuttle is far too small to even contain the fuel needed for such a mission, much less the fuel plus a bunch of landers. The shuttle orbiter's cargo capacity is only 1/3rd of its empty weight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Because it would require a fuel tank (roughly) 125% of the size of the current Shuttle External Tank in a addition to the one it already has - just to fly past the moon. It will take yet more fuel to enter orbit, and more still to return... Not to mention the SSMEs can't be restarted in flight, the Shuttle isn't designed for the thermal or radiation environment of translunar and lunar orbits, etc... etc...

  • This is most likely impossible because the ISS structure was never designed to take the kind of thrust this would require; massive reinforcement of the module connections would be required at the very least. Even if ion engines could be used in a low-impulse manner (assuming they are built, configured, etc.) to escape LEO, the deceleration burn for lunar orbit insertion would be more abrupt and jarring.
    • by isomeme (177414)

      The kind of thrust this would require is identical to the kind of thrust used for orbital maintenance, just applied over a longer period.

  • Yeah.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ztream (584474) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:05PM (#24202187)

    And while we're at it, we can replace the space shuttle with ordinary airplanes by FLYING HIGHER. How come noone has ever thought of this before?

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:06PM (#24202205) Homepage

    One top of the problems enumerated by other poster (time to reach the moon, resupply), Mr Benson seems ignorant of the fact that the ISS lacks radiation shielding - like every other craft in LEO it depends on the Earth's magnetic field to shield it from radiation. The radiation level in the belts, let alone that beyond them, would fry the electronics onboard the ISS and far exceed that considered safe for long term occupation.

    • by atari2600 (545988)

      Umm, the radiation belts are present *because* of earth's magnetic field. Satellites are shielded against this radiation and radiation exposure is inevitable. The radiation belts in the LEO and GEO are because of Earth's geomagnetic field. It's just that at lower altitudes, proton radiation is prominent. At higher altitudes, the killer electrons (from acceleration) take over.
      Armchair physics much?

  • That would provide an initial base for the astronauts going to the moon and give the ISS a purpose other than performing yet more studies on the effect of micro gravity on humans.

    That's right: Its new purpose would be the pointless study of the effects of cosmic radiation and solar storms on humans who would enjoy neither the deflection of the earth's magnetosphere nor the shelter of a layer of moon dirt.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:09PM (#24202253) Homepage
    He basically says that there is no reason in space to stop.

    That is false.

    It is a VERY different trip out of the deep gravity hole, filled with atmosphere that we call earth than it is within space.

    The best reason to stop in space is to SWITCH crafts.

    Specifically, you need a high G (3 or , aerodynamically sound, craft to get out of the atmosphere.

    Once you get out there, you generally want a low G (actually, One G would be perfect), space ship, and you don't care that much about shape. (radiation becoems important however).

    We generally deal with this now either two ways:

    1. Put a smaller ship inside a throw-away one,

    2. give a high initial thrust, and plan it out so that it goes where we want it to without any additional thrust.

    These ideas are rather primitive, cheap, and silly. A better idea is to launch ship components up to the space station, build them there, then launch the second ship from there. This gets rid of the size constraint of the method 1, and allows powered flight for much quicker delivery, negating the huge disadvantage of method 2. Yes, this will be more expensive, but it lets us do things we could not at all using the current methods.

  • The main problem we have is getting mass from into space which takes a whole lot of energy. That's why it's so important that we do the right thing with every molecule we have put up there.

    The next logical step for the ISS is develop the capability for it to repair itself. That means being able to fabricate replacement parts, repair what breaks, and to build new things by intelligently scrapping and remodeling the old and useless. Convert those labs into mini-factories. They'll definitely need one of the [reprap.org]
  • Sending the ISS to the moon, if experiments are still to be its purpose, instantly makes it more expensive to conduct research there. Flinging material out to the moon requires a lot more fuel than to LEO. It significantly raises the cost to do anything, which probably means that even less research will be accomplished. Is there more valuable research that can be done in lunar orbit that can't be done in low-earth orbit?

    Also, if something were to go wrong on the station, there isn't a way for the crew
  • by strelitsa (724743) *
    I can think of several valid reasons why moving the ISS to lunar orbit is a horrible idea. This is merely one of the little ones. The current routine for disposing of trash and waste on ISS is to load it into an empty Progress resupply module then deorbit it and let it burn up in the atmosphere or return it to Earth on the Shuttle. Since the Moon has no atmosphere, doing the same thing there might very well bring down several tons of empty MRE wrappers and busted toilet parts onto some very unhappy taikon
  • here are a list of problems with this plan:

    1. It will travel out side the radiation belts, which will cause all sorts of problems with the electronics, and crew.

    2. It's too heavy, and likely not structurally sound enough for sufficient thrust. (i.e. in less than 9.2 years)

    3. The US doesn't own it. Other countries own it too.

    If we want to use it to explore the solar system, use it as an orbital construction platform. You can provide a place for astronauts to live and work as they build a vessel tha
  • I like its boldness. Outside of a host of technical problems and issues, however, I don't think it's going to be possible.

    As the largest debtor nation on earth, the US has been insolvent for quite some time. I believe that high energy costs will usher in a new era of financial turmoil for the US and any such project, as much as I'd like to see it happen, just isn't going to happen. When the dust settles I'd be surprised to see NASA survive.

  • Ok. Let's say the ISS is in lunar orbit. What happens when the fit hits the shan? Right now, the crew moseys into the soyuz and comes back home.

    That certainly won't work from lunar orbit. The equivalent of the soyuz for that scenario would be an Apollo command and service module. One for every 3 ISS residents, in fact. Complete with fuel, food, O2, etc. Permanently in place with the hope that they're never used.

    That's before you even consider the stuff that would need to make the trip on a routine basis. Fo

  • Here are some issues I see :

    The ISS needs frequent resupply, so there would have to be some sort of lunar ferry. Thus doesn't exist now and would have to be created.

    The ISS is not rated to protect astronauts against solar flares. There would need to be a on-board shielded bunker for them.

    A fast boost would stress the system. A slow boost would put astronauts in the Van Allen belts for extended periods, which dangerous to astronauts and probably also to onboard electronics. If the slow boost is manned, ther

  • Oblig (Score:4, Funny)

    by russlar (1122455) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:49PM (#24202973)
    That's no moon....

    It's the space station!
  • by jjm496 (1004054) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:51PM (#24203007)
    Mr. Benson is also probably the type to build a house and move in before the carpets are laid or the plumbing is connected. 'Cause hell, the floor is going to get dirty anyways and there's a hole in the bathroom floor you can shit through. "The ISS, you see, is already an interplanetary spacecraft -- at least potentially. It's missing a drive system and a steerage module, but those are technicalities." (From Article) Perhaps he doesn't grasp the concept that just because something is able to be maintained operational in orbit, doesn't mean that you can strap a rocket on it's ass and expect the same level of reliability while moving it further away from it's maintenance source. Alot more spare parts would have to be packed, alot more food stored on it as well as much greater volumes of water. The logistics of getting those things to something in low earth orbit are much easier than pushing it out to the moon so you would have to ensure resonable reserves. While he's making comments like, that he might as well say you can stick a snorkel on it and turn it into a submarine. After all, it's likely water tight.

This screen intentionally left blank.

Working...