Chris Kraft criticizes Mars aspirations, calls for returning to Moon instead

September 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Chris Kraft had a lead role in NASA’s first manned missions into space back in the 1960s, and he’s none too happy with the direction that his former employer is heading in now. In an interview last week with the Houston Chronicle, he criticized NASA on multiple points, including its aspiration to fly astronauts to the asteroids and Mars instead of what he said would be a more practical destination: the Moon.

Kraft noted China’s declaration of a program to reach the Moon, and he recalled numerous conversations with European Space Agency researchers who had told him that they would like to see new manned lunar missions but cannot say so publicly because NASA is not initiating any such missions and, consequently, no European agencies will be attempting it as it exceeds their limited resources.

But NASA should, he argued. He envisions the Moon being a convenient launch pad for most future space missions. Lifting off space vehicles from the Moon would be only a tiny fraction of the cost of the huge rocket boosters necessary to life them off from Earth.

“Whether you want to go to the moon or Mars, you’re going to have to do something in Earth orbit, or maybe lunar orbit, with an assembly capability, a fuel depot capability and the capability to have people operating there sort of as a Cape Canaveral in the sky,” he said. “Everybody that looks into this comes to the same conclusion.”
There is also massive energy production potential. An extensive solar-energy station could gather enough electricity from the sun’s rays to power half of humanity, he predicts, by virtue of the hypothetical energy station’s relatively atmosphere-free reception of direct sunlight.

NASA’s current operations on the International Space Station are unpopular even among some of the astronauts, he also said. He also argued that Mars could be better left to robots for now, and NASA’s interest in capturing an asteroid should be a much lower-priority item.

And even those Earth-bound rockets that NASA now uses have room for improvement, in his view. Europe’s Ariane rocket and the privately developed Atlas and Delta rockets are all less costly than the SLS rocket boosters that NASA now uses.

“We’ve got those smarts, we’ve learned that, we have that institutional knowledge, and yet we’re ignoring it. It doesn’t make sense. We’ve got this tremendous capability to put things into orbit, it already exists, and we’re not going to use it,” he said.

Kraft presided over numerous manned missions during the 1960s, an era that many consider to be NASA’s “glory days. His resume includes serving as the agency’s first flight director and directing the Gemini mission in 1965, as well as serving as a senior manager and planner of the Apollo program.

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