|Monday / 17 July 2006|
History Points to Next Big Thing -- Piloted Circumlunar Flights. The success of Bigelow Aerospace's Genesis-1 spacecraft has some thinking about its initial announcements back in 1998, which included Robert Bigelow's unabashed desire to have a lunar spaceline taking passengers on circumlunar flights by 2013. Historically, there were already other plans for circumlunar travel when Apollo 8 made the first piloted trip, tracing the pattern of its mission number around Terra and Luna (pictured, top). NASA could have used the Gemini spaceship to become first to the Moon had Apollo failed -- the Americans were never sure where the Soviet-Russia circumlunar efforts were. As it turns out, they were more behind than expected, but were still developing capable circumlunar craft, including the still operational Soyuz. Unlike the USA, Russia continued developing piloted lunar craft through the early 1980s, some of which might be refurbished and used in this century. In early 2003, China space officials, confident in the success of the upcoming first piloted Shenzhou launch, declared China could use it to send humans around the Moon by early 2007. Then, shortly after US President Bush directed NASA to return humans to the Moon, Russia revealed the new Kliper spaceship intended to replace the Soyuz and fly around the Moon. Around the time the Kliper was introduced, Constellations Services International reminded everyone of the Soyuz's lunar capabilities by unveiling its Lunar Express plan. Then, in 2005, Roscosmos gave exclusive marketing rights for Soyuz around the Moon missions to Space Adventures, which hopes to do its first DSE-Alpha Moon mission before 2010. Meanwhile, the Kliper appears to be abandoned, NASA is years away from having its CEV prototype, and China is deciding how soon it wants to shoot for the Moon. There is also a global push by private industry to have its own orbital capability, which could transfer into private circumlunar flights not long afterward. Info LED Yr 5, #142 and #153.