Speaker will talk about future in space

It’s one thing to go where no man has gone before. It’s another to figure out just how to do that.

David Mains, who has 26 years of experience in the manned space-flight program, will discuss in Grand Junction on Thursday the choices before the space program, especially given the way it has been brought to earth by budget considerations.

President Obama is asking Congress to accept a $19 billion budget proposal that eliminates the Constellation lunar program sought by President George W. Bush.

Obama is asking to spend $6 billion over five years to turn over space transportation to commercial companies, which also would control billions of dollars on technology development and extend the life of the space station.

To take full advantage of the possibilities of space exploration, it’s important to look beyond the politics of the moment, Mains said in an interview Tuesday.

Mains is the manager of the Flight Design Integration and Navigation/Propulsion Design Department for United Space Alliance and is a member of the Constellation Integrated Abort Team.

He’ll speak at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the Saccomanno Lecture Hall at Mesa State College. The speech is free and open to the public. It’s sponsored by the Mesa State Chapter of Sigma Xi, the Western Colorado Math and Science Center and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium.

With the experience of the International Space Station under earth’s cosmic belt, “We know we can live on the moon for half a year, at least,” Mains said.

The Constellation project was to return Americans to the moon by 2020.

The moon would be a good place from which to launch a manned trip to Mars, but it might not be necessary for such a trip, he said. That’s one question that space officials will have to answer in the coming years, Mains said.

Even if the ultimate choice is not to visit the moon, much can change in a few years, so students ought not surrender any hopes they might have for a manned space program, he said. Under any circumstance, there’s plenty of room for experimentation and discovery in space, he said.

For all the accomplishments in space, “We really haven’t got much faster in terms of space travel,” he said. “You need a whole new physics before you can go faster.”

Small, easily maneuverable vehicles will likely be the vehicles that carry humans to Mars, he said.

Large vehicles such as the space shuttle need plenty of propellent, and that takes up needed space and adds to weight when gravity is in play, he said. Large payload bays, wings and the like are “kind of a bad trade” when it comes to traveling over vast areas of space, he said.

A one-way trip to Mars with the technology now in play would take about six months, he said. Most likely, the best way to accomplish it would be to send ahead a vehicle carrying food, water, and other equipment necessary on the surface, with the smaller manned unit behind it, Mains said.

The distance also would mean “the team that goes to Mars is going to have to be somewhat autonomous,” unable to contact Houston to report a problem, he said.


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