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Mighty rockets to the Moon and Mars

Youve probably heard about NASAs plans to return humans to the Moon and explore Mars the effort is called Project Constellation. If all goes well that is, if Congress will continue to fund the herculean space-exploration effort a new fleet of cone-shaped Apollo-like spacecraft, named Orion, will replace our aging space shuttles. Meanwhile, two high-tech rockets the Aries 1 and V will be deployed to replace the shuttles orange and white booster. Both Ares launchers (rockets) are based on proven shuttle rocket technology. The new rockets will be used to lift the Orion spacecraft, its lunar/Mars lander modules, and space station cargo into orbit. The Ares-Orion system will be a true interplanetary vehicle. In June 2006, NASA officially dubbed the crew rocket Ares I and its giant companion cargo launch vehicle was christened Ares V. The name Ares is a nod to the ancient Greek pagan god of war (aka Mars by the Romans). That sounds all well and good, but the casual observer might wonder what happened to the missing Ares I through IV rockets? Will they be added later? Well, the missing rockets were never part of NASAs plan. The Ares I and V designations were picked in homage to the Apollo programs Saturn I and Saturn V rockets designed by the late German-American rocket pioneer Dr. Wernher von Braun. The Saturns were Americas first large-scale vehicles designed to place humans into space. NASA has provided us with some details about both rockets: The Orion capsule (formerly called the CEV, short for crew exploration vehicle) will be carried into space atop an Ares Ia single five-segment solid rocket booster (SRB). The rocket is a direct spinoff of the space shuttle's SRBs with engineering and safety improvements. The Ares Is powerful second-stage cryogenic engine, called the J-2X, is a powerful clone of the successful Saturn J-2 engine; J-2X uses a liquid oxygen-hydrogen fuel. The Ares I is a hefty thing and it will be able to lob 55,000 pounds-plus into low Earth orbit. Its companion rocketthe mammoth Ares Vis what rocket scientists call a true heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV for short). This hybrid HLLV uses five RS-68 liquid cryo oxygen-hydrogen engines. The Ares V engines will be placed below a Brobdingnagian foam-covered version of the space shuttle's external tank; two five-segment solid chemical propellant rocket boosters will be the first stage. The Ares SRBs will employ a complex composite hard fuel made of ammonium perchlorate (oxidizer), aluminum (fuel), iron oxide (catalyst), polymer binder (to hold the stuff together and act as a secondary fuel source), and epoxy glue. You dont want to light up a Montecristo around this stuff! According to a NASA news release, the Ares Vs upper stage will use the same Saturn-derived J-2X engine as the Ares I... The Ares V can lift more than 286,000 pounds to low Earth orbit and will stand approximately 360 feet tall. While there have been several outspoken critics who say the two rockets rely too much on 1970s-era shuttle technology coupled with a few funding and technical problems, theres no reason to doubt that the Ares family of rockets will do the job. It has never been an easy or inexpensive feat to send humans to the Moon or beyond. The history of Project Apollo shows its share of critics, engineering dead ends, lost lives, and cost overruns. Astronaut Gus Grissom, who died in the tragic Apollo 1 fire in 1967, summed up the space program vs. Congress dilemma best No bucks, no Buck Rogers. Money will always make science go. Whats in the Sky: Early May is an ideal time to view the Milky Way. This milky cloudlike structure spreads high overhead in the eastern sky around midnight. When you gaze at the Milky Way, youre looking into the very core of our home galaxy! Louis Varricchio, M.Sc., was a former senior science writer at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. He is currently part of the NASA-JPL Solar System Ambassador public-outreach program in Vermont. He has produced and hosted science-related broadcast programs on Public Radio International and Prairie Public T.V. in the Dakotas.

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