The thing about rumors is that they are schizoid material for a story. Reporters may be obligated to report them – if the buzz is semi-public and concerns knowledgeable people making plausible speculation, they are legit topics. But they are not confirmed. If all rumors came true, they would be called facts. But there are so many rumors out there that they outnumber facts. So, they offer to the news writers an avenue to reporting something that is probably not true and yet hold ones head high at the annual press club dinner if one lives any where such a club these days. After all, some rumors are sound.
The news on the space beat for the last week has included rumor that the Obama administration is about to announce as official policy a human expedition farther than anyone has gone before. Just not farther by much – to L2. That's a Lagrangian point, specifically one that sits eternally a modest distance of about 38,000 miles on the other side of the Moon. There, the combined gravity fields of Earth and Moon and the centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) forces on things on the zone's trajectory all cancel out. So, one can park there without having to expend much rocket propellent to maintain station. It would provide NASA with deep space experience without the bother and risk of being months away from Earth and of having to land on another body, parachutes billowing or retro-rockets blazing. By the way, if you've heard that the long-delayed and over-budget James Webb Space Telescope also will be at L2, that's the Sun-Earth/Moon L2, a lot farther away (1.5 milion km) than the Earth-Moon L2.
Quite a little blog storm ensued at specialty outlets after Space.com's Mike Wall wrote up speculation that this astronautical expedition, a talking-stage item for several years, will soon be on the space agency's short to-do list. Some expected an announcement by now. Maybe it will come any day. Many people have mixed feelings about such a project. It does seem exciting. But like the Webb telescope headed for another L2, could drain a lot of money from space projects with a great deal more payoff in science. Wall talked to several usual suspects in the science polity arena, but got nothing official from NASA that's on the record and for attribution and says this is a go.
By the way, I grate my teeth when reading that at a Lagrangian point, objects hover. No, not exactly. No more than any satellite is hovering. L2 might well seem to be hovering relative to the moon, but that's no more hovering than geostationary satellites hover relative to our planet's (spinning) surface. They're all in orbits. L2 goes around Earth in the same time as does the Moon: 27.3 days (which looks to us like a mean of 29.3 days because EArth is turning at the same time).
Other human L2 station items, mostly citing space.com:
- Wired / Beyond Apollo blog – David S. F. Portree: For Obama's Second Term, NASA REvives a Plan from Clinton's Second Term; Lavish illus, but big puzzle here. Portree cites Wall's piece at space.com, and in his second graf then declares "Unfortunately, the article is substantially incorrect." His beef appears to be that he thinks Wall's story implies too much that NASA plans to leave more footprints right on the moon itself. Bosh. Wall makes lucidly clear that L2 is the goal. One need not "read carefully" as Portree puts it to reveal the true plan.
- io9 – Robert T. Gonzalez: Is NASA about to unveil plans for manned moon mission? ; Maybe this is one example of what Portree is so exercised about: a sloppier rendition of Wall's report. Gonzalez really does in several passages mix up missions to the moon's surface with an orbiting outpost settled at L2.
- Slate – Andrew McCarthy: Why NASA Is Celebrating Obama's Victory ; Pretty much rewrite of Wall. No original reporting is evident.
- PCmag.com – Damon Poeter: Reports: NASA Set to Announce Ambitious Moon Base Plan ; Another with passages implying a base on the moon is in the works and that space.com is the source.
- Dept. of this is largely old news – in January this year Wall's colleague at Space.com, Leonard David, wrote up the general idea as Far Out! New Deep Space Mission Ideas Draw NASA's Eye ; To be sure, it will be new news if the big boss in the White House tells NASA it's a go.
Other spaceman news:
- Wired – Adam Mann: Almost Being There: Why the Future of Space Exploration is Not What You Think ; Essential reading if one is to appreciate the value of having a station far from Earth but not planted on a planet or moon. This could be one way for astronauts to closely explore other such bodies simply be getting near them – operating surface robots by radio link that has no long time delay. As Mann reports, humans and robots may not compete for roles in solar system exploration so much as be teammates.
Grist for the Mill: NASA/Lockheed pdf of a powerpoint presentation, Lunar Farside (L2) – A Stepping Stone in a series of Explorartion Missions.
– Charlie Petit