We must colonize the Moon before attempting to send humans to Mars, otherwise we will remain in a directionless quagmire.
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry, killing all seven astronauts who had spent the past sixteen days carrying out an ambitious scientific research mission in space. It was a devastating blow to NASA, who had never really recovered from the Challenger disaster in 1986.
The Columbiadisaster was caused by a foam strike during liftoff. A portion of the streamlined insulation of the left bipod strut came off during the shuttle’s fiery ascent, striking the leading edge of the reinforced carbon-carbon shield of the port wing. From then on, Columbiawas doomed. But the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, chaired by Admiral Hal Gehman, concluded that the real underlying cause of the disaster lay in a flawed culture at NASA, derived from too much bureaucracy and a lack of a real mission. Among the CAIB’s recommendations was that NASA be given a central mission and a long-term goal.
On January 14, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new direction for NASA which came to be known as the Vision for Space Exploration. His directives were: first, to complete the International Space Station by 2010, and to retire the Space Shuttle from service upon the Station’s completion. Second, to develop a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission by 2014. Third, to return to the Moon by 2020 as a launching point for deep space missions.
NASA, under administrator Sean O’Keefe, began work on implementing the VSE by devising Project Constellation. O’Keefe stepped down in February of 2005 and was succeeded by Michael Griffin, who was passionate about Project Constellation and the Ares rockets which would be used to boost the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, Altair Lunar Lander, and various payloads into space.
Constellation was described as “Apollo on steroids.” The Orion CEV, outwardly, is almost identical to the Apollo command modules used in the 1960s and ‘70s. However, the Orion is much larger, designed for five astronauts, and is fully reusable; although the Ares I upper stage J2 engines and the Ares V RS-68 engines would have been expendable.