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Send the ISS To the Moon

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the one-of-these-days-alice dept.

NASA 387

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.'"

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Problems... (5, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 6 years ago | (#24201803)

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... (4, Interesting)

Lord Apathy (584315) | about 6 years ago | (#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... (5, Insightful)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | about 6 years ago | (#24202165)

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... (4, Interesting)

Moebius Loop (135536) | about 6 years ago | (#24202519)

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... (5, Informative)

SBacks (1286786) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Problems... (5, Insightful)

Jerf (17166) | about 6 years ago | (#24202753)

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... (2, Insightful)

joggle (594025) | about 6 years ago | (#24202203)

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 would take less travel time to get to/from the station when it passes the earth.

One huge deal-breaker problem with sending the ISS to the moon is that the escape vehicle isn't designed to support 3 people in it for the several days it would take to get back from the moon. In addition to not having adequate life support facilities, it probably doesn't have enough fuel capacity to do the two burns needed to make the orbit change (one to head to the Earth and another to re-enter the atmosphere when it gets closer). They absolutely will not consider sending the ISS to a location where immediate evacuation is not possible.

Re:Problems... (1)

Bloodoflethe (1058166) | about 6 years ago | (#24202255)

What you are thinking about isn't a true orbit - it would require constant heavy fuel consumption. A true orbit around both would put the ISS so far away from Earth at all times that the purpose you described would be defeated.

Re:Problems... (1)

Lord Apathy (584315) | about 6 years ago | (#24202315)

Sounds to me then it would be both simpler and better to build a custom spaceship for such an operation. Looks like the ISS is going go down in history as a boat anchor.

Re:Problems... (1)

byKnight (819615) | about 6 years ago | (#24202601)

Heh, heh. He said "standard orbit." ;)

Re:Problems... (1)

Scotteh (885130) | about 6 years ago | (#24201933)

Perhaps the new Ares V [wikipedia.org] rocket will make resupplying a moon-orbiting ISS possible?

Re:Problems... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24202329)

The Ares V could have carried the entire completed ISS in three flights. I don't think it will have any problem doing a resupply mission.

Re:Problems... (4, Insightful)

Smidge207 (1278042) | about 6 years ago | (#24201945)

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.

Re:Problems... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | about 6 years ago | (#24202197)

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:Problems... (0, Flamebait)

Kazymyr (190114) | about 6 years ago | (#24202429)

I'm anxiously awaiting the novel you'll be writing on the subject. Should make nice amateur Sci-Fi. (A lot) more on the side of Fi than of Sci, but that's OK.

Re:Problems... (2, Interesting)

Starglider (1326489) | about 6 years ago | (#24201999)

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:Problems... (1)

DeltaQH (717204) | about 6 years ago | (#24202009)

Around the moon, what could be worst? Toilet failure or running out of toilet paper?

Re:Problems... (1)

Urger (817972) | about 6 years ago | (#24202075)

lot of work

Yes, but so would building an entire new spacecraft. Personally I see this as the perfect use of the ISS when it's current mission is complete. Heck - much of the current planned mission could be performed while the ISS was transitioning to Lunar orbit.

Re:Problems... (2, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | about 6 years ago | (#24202263)

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.

Frankly, any way you attempt this it is going to be astronomically expensive and of limited scientific use (the ISS already suffers from this problem). A more reasonable solution in my opinion is an actual moon base on the surface of the moon. At least there you can do a bunch of geological studies and could theoretically build underground to get around the cosmic ray problem. Also, you might even be able to find some usable water and minerals. The scientific utility is still pretty limited though, especially for the cost such an endeavor would require.

Re:Problems... (3, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 6 years ago | (#24202523)

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.

Re:Problems... (1)

skidv (656766) | about 6 years ago | (#24202415)

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.

The Nova Now guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson said in Time [time.com]

"Do you know that Antarctica is balmier and wetter than the surface of Mars? Yet I don't see people lining up to build condos in Antarctica. So how long? A thousand years. Never. We can visit them. But to land there and say, "What an oasis!"--not anytime soon."

Re:Problems... (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 6 years ago | (#24202595)

I'm not sure you're legally able to do any such thing — isn't Antarctica a wholly parceled out, protected region? I mean, suppose you decided to go live, homestead if you will, in Antarctica. Do you think it would be allowed by any of the parties that have claimed the land?

Re:Problems... (1)

gaijin99 (143693) | about 6 years ago | (#24202691)

The problems you list are very much real, but not quite so insurmountable as they might be.

The main problem is getting stuff out of Earth's gravity well, and that has various possible solutions. A magnetic catapult of only modest length (5km or so) could be constructed for only a few billion with off the shelf components and could be used to fling any non-delicate stuff you want into orbit. The only pollution involved there would be from generating the electricity to run the catapult. That alone could take care of the vast majority of what is needed for survival in space (food, air, water, most electronic and mechanical components, raw materials, etc).

The space plane option requires new tech, but new tech that is mostly a matter of engineering rather than breakthroughs, and would be quite handy for carrying delicate cargo (humans, for example).

The ESA has some hybrid plans for a scramjet based space plane launched from a lower acceleration catapult to get it up to the speed necessary for the scramjet to function.

More to the point, even if we just pushed the ISS out to a stable lunar orbit and had to leave it there for a few years (decades even) its a better plan than letting it crash into the Earth. We spent billions putting that stuff up there, the last thing we need to do is waste that effort by letting it fall down again.

A lunar orbiting ISS would, even if we can't use it today, be an investment in the future.

Why stop at the moon? (-1, Redundant)

tomhudson (43916) | about 6 years ago | (#24201861)

We've already been to the moon.

Slingshot it around the moon for a gravity-assisted trip to Mars.

Re:Why stop at the moon? (5, Funny)

Dr Caleb (121505) | about 6 years ago | (#24201929)

Why don't we just rename the ISS 'Alice'. Then Jackie Gleason can send it there.

Re:Why stop at the moon? (1)

Cerberus7 (66071) | about 6 years ago | (#24201973)

Jackie Gleason's dead, you insensitive clod!

Re:Why stop at the moon? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 6 years ago | (#24202413)

That was the first thing I thought of too, it's even a sound-alike.

"One of these days eye ess ess! One of these days! BANG! ZOOM!"

"Oh yeah, you're goin' somewhere eye ess ess, TO THE MOON!"

Re:Why stop at the moon? (1)

sm62704 (957197) | about 6 years ago | (#24202607)

Send the ISS To the Moon
Posted by kdawson on Tuesday July 15, @03:45PM
from the one-of-these-days-alice dept

He's dead, Jim.

Re:Why stop at the moon? (5, Funny)

guaigean (867316) | about 6 years ago | (#24202043)

We've already been to the moon.

Careful... There might be a few around here that disagree with that :)

Re:Why stop at the moon? (5, Funny)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | about 6 years ago | (#24202193)

It's obvious we never went to the moon. The whole budget went to building movie studios to fake the moon landings. Why the expense? To simulate lower gravity, they had to film it on Mars.

Re:Why stop at the moon? (1)

ypctx (1324269) | about 6 years ago | (#24202411)

We've already been to the moon.

Careful... There might be a few around here that disagree with that :)

And yet others suggest there is an alien base on the other side of the moon, and we don't like to go there.
While I belong to neither camp, I still haven't really digested this video [youtube.com] , where many credible and sane looking people debate that and similar topics.
Here's a shorter one [youtube.com] , specifically on the moon.
I know it can all be crap, but what if it isn't!

Nah... (4, Funny)

stretchpuppy (1304751) | about 6 years ago | (#24201873)

Send that POS into the sun. Good riddance.

Re:Nah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24202201)

I'm sure Bush would rather drop it on Iran.

Time to moon: 9.2 years (5, Informative)

jamie (78724) | about 6 years ago | (#24201881)

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]

Rename it (1)

chill (34294) | about 6 years ago | (#24201917)

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

Re:Time to moon: 9.2 years (2, Interesting)

AZScotsman (962881) | about 6 years ago | (#24202029)

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]

Re:Time to moon: 9.2 years (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 6 years ago | (#24202465)

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.

Re:Time to moon: 9.2 years (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 6 years ago | (#24202055)

So, strap on a few more panels as well as the ion engine. Or put another satellite in orbit with lots of solar panels and a microwave transmitter so we don't need to lug the panels up there. Probably good reasons not to do it this way either but there are other options.

Putting stuff in various new orbits (3, Interesting)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#24201891)

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.

Re:Putting stuff in various new orbits (3, Informative)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 6 years ago | (#24201977)

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:Putting stuff in various new orbits (2, Interesting)

pintpusher (854001) | about 6 years ago | (#24202463)

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:Putting stuff in various new orbits (1)

Scotteh (885130) | about 6 years ago | (#24202023)

How would NASA make use of old booster rockets in space? They're lower powered (at least I'm assuming they've been improved), and they would need to be refueled. It doesn't make much sense to use fuel to transport fuel out to old rockets.

Re:Putting stuff in various new orbits (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 6 years ago | (#24202125)

You wouldn't use them to get around in. You would link them together as space station modules, whether laboratories, living facilities, or other modules.

Re:Putting stuff in various new orbits (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 6 years ago | (#24202319)

Yes, because I want to live in a module that has residues from goodies like hydrazine all over the place.

Re:Putting stuff in various new orbits (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24202661)

Hydrazine is not normally used as a main propellant, it is used for steering thrusters. The Saturn 5s used LOX and LH2 for their oxidizer and fuel.

Who is Michael Benson? (2, Interesting)

dontPanik (1296779) | about 6 years ago | (#24201903)

And does he have the sufficent knowledge to be making and backing up these crazy suggestions?

An artist, apparently (2, Informative)

jfengel (409917) | about 6 years ago | (#24202647)

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.

Re:Who is Michael Benson? (1)

sm62704 (957197) | about 6 years ago | (#24202711)

Wikipedia is your friend [wikipedia.org] .

Michael Benson is an American filmmaker and writer who has lived in Ljubljana, Slovenia since the early 1990s.

He filmed a documentary there, "Predictions of Fire", on the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK), or "New Slovenian Art" movement. He later published a book of his own digitally reprocessed images from interplanetary space probes, called Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes.

So, to answer your question, no. He doesn't the sufficent knowledge to be making and backing up these crazy suggestions.

Not feasible (4, Interesting)

Zerbey (15536) | about 6 years ago | (#24201907)

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 (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 6 years ago | (#24202379)

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.

Re:Not feasible (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about 6 years ago | (#24202675)

Out of curiosity, what problem do you have with the Aries vehicles? The Saturn V and the Aries V seem to have a lot in common, even the engines for the Aries V are a near exact copy of the Saturn V's with a revision letter difference. Granted the Aries I is a rather new idea, but I like the idea, it's better for moving people that putting a whole shuttle up there.

Re:Not feasible (1)

cowscows (103644) | about 6 years ago | (#24202655)

Regarding your first bullet point, the proposal suggests using ion engines, which are actually very low thrust. They would accelerate the ISS very slowly, so the issue of structural integrity wouldn't be much of a problem. I'm too lazy too look up how the current orbit boosting works, but if it's a more conventional system then it probably creates much more stress on the station than ion engines would.

The rest of your points are valid, although I think the bigger issue with the solar panels is that the moon spends large periods of time in the earth's shadow. I guess they'd have to seriously beef up the batteries or something.

better move quick (4, Funny)

maniac/dev/null (170211) | about 6 years ago | (#24201921)

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

Rename the ISS Alice (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24201941)

Bam! Pow! Straight to the moon!

Lumpy Gravity (4, Informative)

Detritus (11846) | about 6 years ago | (#24201971)

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.

Re:Lumpy Gravity (5, Informative)

scuba_steve_1 (849912) | about 6 years ago | (#24202719)

Very interesting...and I did Google it...and ii turns out that there are actually four inclinations that allow one to orbit the moon indefinitely: 27Â, 50Â, 76Â, and 86Â

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/06nov_loworbit.htm [nasa.gov]

Still though, it's an interesting point and a nice read...so thanks for the info.

Me? I am still going with the lack of radiation shielding as the nail in the coffin. That reason alone makes this guy's idea seem fairly poorly thought out.

Technicalities? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Cosmic Ray problem (5, Insightful)

ogre7299 (229737) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Cosmic Ray problem (1)

cowscows (103644) | about 6 years ago | (#24202747)

No, this is perfect! Ship thousands of astronauts there, and let natural selection weed out the ones less adapted to the harsh environment of space. Once we have a bunch of human beings adapted to cosmic ray bombardment, we can start shoving them out the airlock until we evolve humans capable of surviving exposure to vacuum.

What's the matter, are you one of those evolution-denying ID'ers or something?

Leave it where it is. (2, Interesting)

camperdave (969942) | about 6 years ago | (#24202059)

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.

Re:Leave it where it is. (5, Informative)

ogre7299 (229737) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Leave it where it is. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24202581)

What would be involved in changing the inclination of the ISS orbit to match that of the solar system?

Re:Leave it where it is. (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#24202613)

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.

That's a big trade off for diplomacy. I hope the Russians understand/appreciate that.

Re:Leave it where it is. (1)

mbone (558574) | about 6 years ago | (#24202643)

You are precisely right. Plus, it doesn't buy you much (even if in the right orbit) as orbital assembly doesn't really need a space station.

Re:Leave it where it is. (1)

99luftballon (838486) | about 6 years ago | (#24202357)

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.

Re:Leave it where it is. (1)

IrquiM (471313) | about 6 years ago | (#24202649)

Russians are already planning a "dry dock" in space after 2020.

My bet is on them, if not some private company does it first.

Space Suttle to the Moon (2, Interesting)

Lord Apathy (584315) | about 6 years ago | (#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:Space Suttle to the Moon (2, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | about 6 years ago | (#24202141)

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.

Re:Space Suttle to the Moon (1)

NeuroManson (214835) | about 6 years ago | (#24202435)

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:Space Suttle to the Moon (2, Informative)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | about 6 years ago | (#24202473)

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:Space Suttle to the Moon (1)

mbone (558574) | about 6 years ago | (#24202609)

Why on Earth would you spend the energy to take thousands of pounds of ceramic tiles (for re-entry) to the Moon, when you can't even use them to get back to Earth from a Lunar return (too hot) ?

should be tagged "author-is-a-hippy-optimist".... (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 6 years ago | (#24202087)

(quoted/end of article);
"All the billions already spent on the space station would pay off -- spectacularly -- if this product of human ingenuity actually went somewhere and did something. But it would also serve as a compelling demonstration that we're one species, living on one planet, and that we're as capable of cooperating peacefully as we are at competing militaristically. Let's begin the process of turning the ISS from an Earth-orbiting caterpillar into an interplanetary butterfly."

Not to say that i dislike optimist's.

Radiation (1)

fpgaprogrammer (1086859) | about 6 years ago | (#24202105)

once you get out of LEO you're not going to fair very well in the van Allen radiation without someone serious design modification. this article is so stupid... perfect for a slashdot debate.

One of these days...one of these days... (1)

Cypher04 (807337) | about 6 years ago | (#24202129)

POW, right in the kisser!

Module Interlinks Aren't Designed for This.... (1)

applemasker (694059) | about 6 years ago | (#24202147)

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.

Re:Module Interlinks Aren't Designed for This.... (1)

isomeme (177414) | about 6 years ago | (#24202517)

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.. (5, Funny)

Ztream (584474) | about 6 years ago | (#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?

Re:Yeah.. (1)

Diddlbiker (1022703) | about 6 years ago | (#24202521)

As long as they're the shape and size of DC-8's. Didn't Xenu use those 8 billion years ago?

More stupid armchair engineering (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24202205)

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.

Re:More stupid armchair engineering (1)

atari2600 (545988) | about 6 years ago | (#24202505)

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?

Re:More stupid armchair engineering (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 6 years ago | (#24202707)

Umm, the radiation belts are present *because* of earth's magnetic field.

Right - the Earth's magnetic field creates the radiation. Cosmic rays, solar radiation - all a conspiracy theory.
 
 

Satellites are shielded against this radiation and radiation exposure is inevitable.

Very true - but it's also true that the radiation environment is much more benign in LEO than in the belts or beyond because the Earth's magnetic fields protect them from that higher level of radiation.

Experiments (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 6 years ago | (#24202207)

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.

They should go *because* it's difficult (1)

jareth780 (176411) | about 6 years ago | (#24202219)

That or they could just fake [nytimes.com] this one too!

Queue "Blue Danube Waltz" (1)

Mogster (459037) | about 6 years ago | (#24202231)

The first thing that popped into my head is the docking scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Granted the IIS isn't dual ringed, nor does it spin. But could it not be utilised for the same purpose... i.e. a trans-Moon transfer station? Or even trans-Mars?

He makes one blatant error (5, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 6 years ago | (#24202253)

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.

Repair, reuse, recycle (1)

Statecraftsman (718862) | about 6 years ago | (#24202273)

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 these. [reprap.org]

the ISS will not take the radiation (1)

Gil-snowboarder (968253) | about 6 years ago | (#24202285)

bad news, The ISS is made to work in low earth orbit under the Van Allen belts. the radiation is to much outside of the VA belt. Great idea but the ISS is forever stuck in LEO.

Problems with the distance (1)

necro81 (917438) | about 6 years ago | (#24202317)

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 to get home quickly. Apollo took 3-4 days to transit between the Earth and Moon, and hit the atmosphere at 38,000 kph. We don't yet have a crew "escape capsule" that can accommodate the full crew, nor one that is designed to travel so far and support people for so long, nor one that can survive reentry from anything other than LEO.

Very High Earth Orbit (1)

geogob (569250) | about 6 years ago | (#24202323)

I wonder if a very high earth post geosynchronous orbit wouldn't be an even better "second life" for the ISS. First it would be less complexe than getting it into a moon orbit. Second, I could prove to be more useful there. As well as being a relay for lunar (or where ever) missions, it could be used as a platform to service (or remove) satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

Re:Very High Earth Orbit (1)

geogob (569250) | about 6 years ago | (#24202371)

Wait. No. I don't think "I" could prove to be useful at all in Very High Earth Orbit. I like the comfort of air and gravity a little too much. Sorry for the bad proof reading.

Can't be done (1)

benjfowler (239527) | about 6 years ago | (#24202327)

There are so many problems with this proposals it's ridiculous.

First of all, the ISS is very carefully designed to operate in low earth orbit in it's present inclination. One good reasons is thermal issues: rejecting waste heat and ensuring it doesn't get too hot or cold is important. If you were to build a space station to go into a different orbit, you would have to redesign the entire space station accordingly.

Not to mention that there are very good reasons why the station is in low earth orbit. LEO is relatively cheap to get to (launching to higher orbits costs more), not to mention the fact that the magnetosphere still shields the astronauts from much of the radiation from the solar wind, cosmic rays from elsewhere, etc.

Lots of useful science can be done in its present orbit. While the current inclination doesn't give good coverage of Earth's poles, it's still better than nothing.

There's another reason why moving the ISS would be impractical: the amount of delta-V required to get the thing into lunar orbit would be phenomenal. Not to mention the expense and complexity of resupplying the station in lunar orbit.

Trash Disposal (2, Funny)

strelitsa (724743) | about 6 years ago | (#24202359)

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 taikonaut's head on the Moon.

trolL (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24202403)

Well-k80wn

No no, too late (1)

caywen (942955) | about 6 years ago | (#24202443)

No no, too late. We already signed the paperwork to have it burn up in the atmosphere on March 3, 2018 3:44am GMT. The deadline for idea proposals has already passed and it is too late to submit a SOPX-1452B form in triplicate to the NASBE office.

Off the top of my head... (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#24202457)

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 that is better suited for the mission.

Out of the box idea (1)

PingXao (153057) | about 6 years ago | (#24202541)

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.

Contingency planning (1)

nsayer (86181) | about 6 years ago | (#24202567)

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. Food, O2, fuel for the station keeping rockets, people going up and coming down... All of it equivalent in scale to a single Apollo mission.

If we had a fleet of Eagles [wikipedia.org] , then I'd say it would be practical.

This would take years to do. (1)

mbone (558574) | about 6 years ago | (#24202569)

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, there is danger, if unmanned, there would be no one to fix any problems.

Oh, and the inclined orbit for the ISS is not the same as the inclination of the Lunar orbit, so it will take more energy to get the ISS there than a simple 2-D calculation would indicate.

Here is an idea - get the Russians to build another MIR, updated of course, and boost it to Lunar orbit. At the same time, work on an Lunar ferry. The Soviets discussed putting a MIR into Lunar Orbit, so why not do it, except from French Guiana (the Arianne launch site) or the Kenyan Proton launch site (to save energy by having a low latitude launch site).

De-orbit plan? (2, Interesting)

minkie (814488) | about 6 years ago | (#24202621)

By the way, what are we going to do with the ISS when we're done with it? That's a lot of hardware up there. Is there a plan to safely de-orbit it without dropping lots of metal on some poor unsuspecting city?

Near Earth Asteroids (1)

mbone (558574) | about 6 years ago | (#24202683)

You could send the ISS or Mir to a NEA - some are easier to reach energetically than the Moon. I am not quite sure what you would do with it once you got there, but it would be cool.

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