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Old 17-04-2010, 05:47 AM   #1
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Default Military Rockets: Solution For Nasa?

For more than three years, NASA chief Michael Griffin has maintained that the safest, most reliable and affordable way to return astronauts to the moon is on the Ares I, a rocket he helped design from parts of the space shuttle. Alternatives, he insisted, such as modified military rockets, were simply not capable of carrying humans to the moon and beyond.

But interviews, as well as documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, indicate that military rockets can lift astronauts safely into space -- and to the moon -- for billions less and possibly sooner than NASA's current designs.

While it's not clear how the next administration wants to proceed with NASA's lunar ambitions, one aerospace-industry official confirmed that NASA recently asked Kennedy Space Center to start examining the impacts of scrapping NASA's own Ares I rocket design and switching to modified versions of the military's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets as the agency's next-generation human spaceships.
Already, Atlas V and Delta IV -- also known as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, or EELVs -- successfully blast NASA probes to Mars and beyond and put top secret multibillion-dollar military spy satellites into clandestine orbits from launchpads in Florida and California several times a year. There have been a total of 21 EELV flights since the first Atlas V and Delta IV launches occurred in 2002.

A NASA team chosen by Griffin in 2005 decided that the Atlas V and Delta IV lacked the muscle to lift a new Apollo-like crew capsule, were too unsafe to fly human beings to the moon and that the costs to upgrade them were too high.

Griffin has steadfastly held his position, working hard behind the scenes to silence critics and suppress any suggestion that NASA made a mistake by choosing the Ares I rocket as the centerpiece of the nation's moon plans.

"EELVs are fine vehicles," Griffin told the Orlando Sentinel. "But they are not suitable for taking people back to the moon." Changing systems now, he added, would be a disaster for America's space program.

The incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama has started to ask questions about NASA's current rocket designs, which are beset by technical and financial problems. And the answers the transition team gets from proponents of alternative rockets could transform NASA's approach to its moon program.
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