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Getting the U.S. back into space flight

Remember that, 50 years ago, we put several men on the moon? And now, we don’t have a space vehicle to send men or women to the International Space Station?

Our latest attempt to orbit a vehicle capable of carrying people was a miserable failure on Dec. 20, 2019.

With computer capability a few thousand times better than 50 years ago, we were not able to put the space capsule into orbit. The Starliner by Boeing failed again.

This time, it was reported to be a software problem.

To quote NASA’s head of Human Exploration Doug Loverro, “We don’t know how many software errors we have — if we have just have two or many hundreds.”

There are over a million lines of code in the capsule’s computer program. Think how much time it will take to review all those.

It seems to me that it will be two more years before we are able to send anyone into space with our rockets.

Russia does it routinely for us at great expense. NASA had an agreement for Russia to transport astronauts to and from the ISS thru 2019. It seems like they are going to have to extend the agreement for a few years.

Boeing won a $4.2 billion contract to transport crews to and from the ISS. This was to develop and certify the space craft by 2017. This included at least one crewed launching using the certified space craft. It seems like they missed their goals. Incidentally, the original agreement included having the permission to sell commercial seats on the vehicle for those who could afford the price.

The Starliner has an impressive list of specifications, it weighs 28,660 pounds and is about 15 feet in diameter. That is slightly larger than the Apollo capsule.

It is designed to carry as many as seven astronauts into orbit and is designed to link up with the ISS. It is designed to be launched by several of our rockets including the latest attempt, the Atlas V. Other rockets include Delta IV, Falcon 9 and the planned Vulcan.

They did have some success, the capsule, after two days landed successfully at White Sands, New Mexico. This was the first time that a crew-capable space capsule had a successful land-based touchdown in the United States. It used three parachutes and airbags to land.

The airbags will be stored under the heat shield. The air bag will be inflated with nitrogen and oxygen, rather than the explosive mixture that inflates your car air bags. Boeing plans to be using the space craft at least 10 times after a six-month rehab after each launch.

There is some interesting innovation going on. The United Kingdom has built a prototype ion engine that they claim could accelerate a spacecraft to 100,000 miles per hour. It is an ion engine that accelerates argon ions for power.

They say that it could cut the travel time to Mars in half. I assume they will remember that they will need power to slow it down to land on Mars.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com