Hello Readers, the Atomic Writer just received an email from the project manager on the Phobos project. I feel sorry for him and everyone involved with the program here in the U.S. The spacecraft is still in near Earth orbit and descending everyday towards an eventual plummet to the surface. Too bad we don’t have an operational shuttle program that could rescue the ailing Russian sad excuse for a spacecraft. All they can do is sit and attempt to make contact with it. If they haven’t done so by now they never will. Once it reenters the atmosphere it’s not going to suddenly spring to life and start accepting instructions.
This is another reason I advocate the continuance of NASA and the U.S. run space program. We led the way into space and must push forward to explore new worlds and boldly go where no man has gone before. Beam me up… oh, sorry I must have got carried away. But seriously, if we had a reusable spacecraft that could go up and either repair the Phobos craft, or more importantly usher it safely back to Earth, we could possible save the mission and expedite a follow up launch.
Certainly, the private sector is making headway into this space – no pun intended. The Virgin Galactic operation based in the New Mexico desert has announced it will begin commercial space flight at the end of 2012. These will be very expensive trips to near Earth orbit and are designed to just go up for a short amount of time and then return. Passengers will experience weightlessness and be able to see the curvature of the Earth and be able to brag to all their friends that they indeed have been into space. But these passenger baring lightweight spacecrafts are really no more than modified gliders. Built for the express purpose of making money. Packing the largest amount of people in the smallest space to allow for a fuel efficient ride. Unfortunately, if operational they would still not be able to rescue the Phobos rocket.
Passenger safety is of the utmost importance in these flights especially during the infancy period where public impressions will become very important. Over time the cost of a trip into space will lower and more people will be able to experience it. It is at this time that public acceptance of the cost of space exploration will become more favorable. When we can see a direct benefit of the cost to a tangible goal we will gladly open our wallets and help foot the bill. But we will never get to this point if we are short sighted and try to rationalize away a space program for the short term comfort of social programs that do nothing but extend the misery of the human condition.
Don’t get me wrong, I support social programs and community efforts to help people in need. But wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a home to live in. Enough food on the table and access to high quality medical services when needed. On this planet, this is fast becoming an unreachable fantasy as we run out of natural resources. However, if we could spread out to new worlds with unlimited resources this dream may not be so far fetched.
Take this as an analogy – your driving your car through the desert on a lonely and deserted highway. You must reach a faraway town in order to find a job and survive. Currently you have half a tank of gas, a small bag of Nacho chips, and limited amount of money. A highway sign approaches in the distance, but you can’t make it out just yet. You continue to roll down the highway as the sign becomes readable: Last services for one hundred and fifty miles! Next exit. Do you stop and spend all your money to refuel and eat, or do you continue to save your money until the next services? Remember, you still need to reach the faraway town many miles past the next highway services. Think about it, we must not risk the chance of blowing our wad and not reaching the goal of leaving our cradle and stepping out into the cosmos. We need to establish ourselves in space while we have the money and the knowledge to do so. Let’s not trade this dream for short term comforts that keep us tied to the mother ship. Before we reach the inevitable tipping point where humanity becomes forever tied to the doomed existence it could have prevented.
I find the following quote opportune in light of the agency behind the Phobos fiasco.
Here’s the letter from Bruce Betts expressing his appreciation for all involved and hinting at a future mission and the pockets he will need to explore in order to raise the money again.
Since you are a valued member of the Planetary Society team that helped launch our Phobos LIFE experiment, I want to share with you excerpts from a letter we just received from our colleagues at the Space Research Institute (IKI) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
As you’ll read, the Phobos-Grunt (Soil) spacecraft failed to leave Earth orbit after it was launched last month, carrying our LIFE capsule on what we hoped would be a round trip to Mars’ moon Phobos and back.
The letter came from Lev Zelenyi, Director of the Space Research Institute. It reads:
“As you may already know, the launch of the Phobos-Soil spacecraft was a failure. On November 8, 2011 the spacecraft was put into the near Earth orbit, however, the booster did not turn on, and, therefore, the spacecraft did not manage to change this initial orbit and transfer to the interplanetary trajectory. The reason of this failure has not been determined yet.
“Immediately after this unpredictable event all forces of the mission control team were concentrated in order to attempt to establish communication with the spacecraft. Several foreign organizations, in particular, ESOC-ESA, DSN-JPL-NASA, NORAD-STRATCOM, numerous amateur observers tracked the spacecraft to establish communication with it and determine parameters of the orbit, its orientation and attitude. However, despite people being at work 24 / 7 since the launch, all these attempts have not yield any satisfactory results. We are grateful to our foreign colleagues, who provided us with every list of information about the spacecraft which was crucial at the time.
“Currently, the spacecraft is rotating at the near Earth orbit, lowering every day, and we expect that it is to enter the atmosphere in several weeks. Lavochkin Association specialists will continue their attempts to establish connection with the spacecraft and send commands until the very end of its existence. We are working nevertheless on the issue of re-entry and probability of where and which fragments may hit the ground (if any).
“We would like to express our deep gratitude to you and all the scientists and specialists for collaboration on the Phobos-Soil Mission, preparation of scientific instruments and provision of ground support. We are deeply sorry about the failure of the Phobos-Soil Mission. We hope in future to continue our collaboration on space science projects.”
The loss of Phobos LIFE is a blow, but we are already recovering and looking forward to the future. We are even now analyzing the microorganisms that flew with our Shuttle LIFE project on the last flight of Endeavour, and we are seeking out future exploratory opportunities to share with you.
With your invaluable help and support, we know that together we will make our future in space vibrant, coming ever closer to our shared goals of understanding and appreciating the worlds around us.
Thank you again for all your support.
Phobos LIFE Project Manager
Remember, never stop looking up into the night sky and asking, what if…
The Atomic Writer