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NASA’s Return To The Moon – Free Public Lecture Tonight @ Questacon

By MWest - 23 July 2009 12

As part of the International Year of Astronomy, the local section of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA) in partnership with Questacon proudly presents


by Wayne Lee, Altair Vehicle Systems Manager, NASA JPL

Tonight at 6pm at the Japan Theatre at Questacon, King Edward Terrace, Parkes.

This public lecture is FREE and all are welcome.

For more information contact Michael via aiaa.sydneysection[at] No RSVP required, just turn up!

Talk Summary

“As we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.” Back in 1972, nobody thought 35 years would pass with that message from Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan still standing as the last words transmitted from the surface of the Moon. Today, NASA is working to fulfill its pledge to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020. This time plans call for a crew of four to explore for up to seven days at a time with the eventual goals of possibly building a permanently occupied lunar base. Doubling both the crew and stay time from the Apollo flights will take a booster larger than the original Saturn V Moon rocket and a lunar lander taller than a two-storey house.

In this talk Wayne Lee will describe NASA’s current lunar exploration plans as well as the gigantic machines currently under design to make it possible.

Speaker Biography

Wayne Lee is Altair Vehicle Systems Manager at NASA. Previously Wayne enjoyed great success as the mission planner for Mars operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. During the mission, Wayne would work with all the elements of the flight team to coordinate trajectories, science plans and spacecraft operations into the overall mission itinerary. Originally from San Diego, Calif., Wayne has degrees from Berkeley in electrical engineering and from the University of Texas in astronautics. Wayne has published a book on spaceflight mechanics for the layperson.

For information about the local AIAA section visit and for details about other International Year of Astronomy events visit

This event is part of the International Year of Astronomy celebrations. IYA activities in Australia are funded with assistance from the Science Connections Program within the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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12 Responses to
NASA’s Return To The Moon – Free Public Lecture Tonight @ Questacon
Skidbladnir 12:55 pm 24 Jul 09

Gunaghlin Al, I quite like the idea of looking up at the Moon and being able to see it occupied, having a handy reminder that humans are actually doing something other than serving time until the next extinction asteroid hits.

PS: The “dark side of the moon” instead of the “far side” when talking about the bit we don’t see? The moon has day\night cycles, just as it in synchronous rotation with Earth you’ll never see the entirety of other side.
(the far side is having ‘full daylight’ every new moon).

Skidbladnir 12:22 pm 24 Jul 09

But then again, NASA already send people up into space among a layer of space debris, we shoot at sattelites that leave entirely random debris clouds at a level that shuttles already pass through (USA 193), build shuttles that shed foam at launch and write off the entire vessel (Columbia), let a faulty O-ring fail to contain heated gas exploding the vessel at launch (Challenger), and kill off an entire crew when their capsule outgassed by accident (Soyuz 11).

That it is thinner than a piano wire is less concern, it can support vastly more weight.
We already fly passengers in planes that risk bird strike at ground level and then stop worrying about when we get above a certain altitude, purely because birds tend to die without sufficient oxygen, so tend to stay where they survive.
If the elevator is a lasting piece of infrastructure, mitigate such a risk by shielding it up the point that living birds are less of a worry.
And NASA sends crew into EVA with what I assume are unarmoured suits, where there are 8km/s flecks of paint (and missing NASA toolkits) flying around.
Clearly, the Space Program already has risks (and failures), which then get learned from, mitigated or deemed acceptable risks.

Gungahlin Al 12:17 pm 24 Jul 09

Mmm – shades of Kim Stanley-Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy here. I thought the elevator “cable” was far more substantial in scopings done so far. But as with Red Mars, the risk from a falling cabling encircling the globe would be prohibitive (at least while bin Laden is still at large!).

Perhaps mining could be feasible on the dark side, thereby preserving the view from Earth.

I wasn’t meaning to imply that Wayne should be looking to recycle everything, but rather if a left over bit couldn’t be landed softly back to a surface (and perhaps then become a future lunar museum piece?) then spit it off towards the sun or generally outwards, rather than smash it into the moon. As I said last light, it would be a bit like earlier explorers leaving their trash all over the Grand Canyon – or the efforts we have now to clean up the waste dumps in Antarctica. Except that once the lunar surface is disturbed from its 4Byo state, it will stay that way.

MWest BTW folks is working on plasma thrust engines over at ANU – brilliant idea the stuff of sci-fo novels like Arthur C Clarke’s Rendevous with Rama that spits electrons out the back to accelerate (oh so slowly) space craft probably to Mars and elsewhere.
Some brilliant stuff going on here in this town of ours.

MWest 11:58 am 24 Jul 09

I’m always cautious about advocating and relying on systems that rely on as yet uninvented and uncosted technologies (stable long carbon nanotubes – i.e. more than a few metres). Space elevators are interesting but an enormous amount of development work is required. Would you want to ride on something that is supported by wires thinner than piano wire that extend for over 200 km straight up and which a flock of birds could easily fly into and destroy. Or a paint fleck in low earth orbit moving at 8 km/s for that matter. No thanks!

Skidbladnir 11:47 am 24 Jul 09

I’m no space physicist or jet propulsion engineer and clearly don’t speak for NASA, but space elevators instead of aeronautic solutions seem like energy efficient long-term solutions, in that the point is to start missions from already outside gravity wells.
And you can drop stuff off at the top, it uses gravity to bring it down. If you manage to slow it down on the way, its free energy.
If you can build the first one, and start assembling another one in orbit, its just a matter of being patient and getting the ‘other end’ into orbit around your partner…

Jets are dead sexy and need human flyboys to pilot them, but “NASA Eelevator Attendant” isn’t a job title that makes the ladies swoon.

MWest 11:29 am 24 Jul 09

Mining the moon is NOT in NASA’s plans for the foreseeable future. There is a lot of debate about it’s feasibility.

The laws of physics mean that there is no benefit in launching a rocket to Mars from the surface of the Moon. The gravity well is still too large and the costs and complexity of putting large scale launch infrastructure on the Moon isn’t worth it.

The real advantage in going to the Moon, as far as human Mars exploration is concerned, is that it is a great test bed for learning how to live and work on another planet. Instead of being 6 months away like Mars, it is only 3 days away, so we can test everything out before hand on the Moon in preparation for going to Mars. Of course not all of the hardware will be the same but a lot of it will be similar.

MWest 11:24 am 24 Jul 09

If people wish to be notified of future AIAA events, you can be added to our emailing list. Just send an email to aiaa.sydneysection[at] Just replace the [at] with @. This stops us getting spam.

I think on one level, that the ‘throw it away’ approach is rather “human” than “American” and Wayne made the very valid point that if we were to re-use every component the cost would be extreme and we would never go back to the Moon.

More generally, the modern NASA takes it’s environmental obligations very seriously but is also pragmatic about the issue. Exploration always has a cost and risks but one must consider those costs and risks in light of the benefits. Humanity has learnt a lot from the experiences in Antarctica. A human presence there does impact the place, but efforts are made to minimize that impact. What we have gained from science in Antarctica far out weighs the impact we have had, in my humble opinion.

ant 11:21 am 24 Jul 09

Is that “mining the moon” stuff feasible? I never realised there was anything desirable up there. As oil becomes scarcer and scarcer, if it is economically and scientifically feasible, it will probably happen.

I’d imagine the Moon is a desirable staging point for flights to Mars, too? Would the lesser gravity make it easier/more energy efficient?

Skidbladnir 11:07 am 24 Jul 09

Antarctica – Moon comparisons may have some value, but a major part of the scientific research going on there now has rather large scope for ‘screw the whales, divide up the spoils’ once the current gentleman’s agreement not to mine the place falls in a heap.
The Moon even more so.

The moon, for example, is a rich souce of Helium 3, which is really useful for fusion power reactions), but to be cost effective the proposal needs to involve strip mining the moon for everything else at the same time, and sifting through the dust for solar-product helium 3, but the end result is half a dozen annual trips to the moon providing more energy than humans can consume.
You can put up solar power stations that receive eternal sunshine at the poles, and do other handy things like microwave beam power back to earth, if you’re extra keen.

With benefits like that, frankly I’m all for colonising and mining the moon in the name of progress. Its not so much ‘raping virgin territory’, as giving it a loving embrace in an experimental fashion and then nurturing its development for mutual gain…

Gungahlin Al 10:32 am 24 Jul 09

I posted the notice in the Honeysuckle Creek thread more than a week ago.

It was a good presentation, great animation of the proposed missions, and photography of the existing prototype lunar Winnebago. There is a lot of deja vu about the methods and designs they will be using – turns out the Apollo designs were pretty much on the money.

Not sure he appreciated my questioning their plans to just crash leftover booster bits back into the moon wherever, or that this ‘throw it away’ approach was rather “American”. (Did anyone see the new footage from Honeysuckle that one of the operators there took of Armstrong and Aldrin tossing their leftovers out the hatch right before leaving the moon??)

Way I figure, the moon’s surface has been largely unchanged for billions of years, and within the lifetime of my children, there’ll be a lot more people going there. But it should remain a rather ‘sacred’ place (regardless of one’s religious position) much like our approach to Antarctica now, and our impacts (pun intended) on the surface should be minimised.

Digga 9:58 am 24 Jul 09

Me too. 🙁

Tony 6:32 pm 23 Jul 09

Awww bummer. I wish this was posted earlier 🙁

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