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Space Exploration Merit Badge
Music: "Star Trek"
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  •   50 years ago, during the fearful climate of the Cold War, the world was changed forever when the Soviet Union became the first to launch a satellite into orbit. The 22" sphere stayed in orbit for only 23 days while it transmitted a simple beeping signal to a startled world. Although the USA had been experimenting with sub-orbital payloads and hypersonic flight, we hadn't paid enough attention to the capabilites of our political nemesis and were shocked that a society we viewed as brutal and backward could have accomplished this feat. Sputnik succeeded in aligning the bickering of politicians and the competing divisions of the Armed Forces into a race for space, mostly fueled by our bruised pride and fear of the Soviets getting ahead of us, but eagerly embraced by a public with grand dreams of the future and managed by visionaries like Werner Von Braun's team. NASA was formed a year later, made up of Von Braun's team, the JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab), and the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). About 80 days after Sputnik shocked the world, Explorer 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral and the race for the moon began.

      As you work on the Space Exploration merit badge, you will learn more about this exciting era and how it has impacted your life today. We have evolved from the prideful race to show who was the best, to a new era of international cooperation known as The Global Exploration Strategy. The goal is to share information of what worked and what didn't, to design compatible (if not interchangeable) communications, life support, control and docking modules for the mutual benefit of all mankind. For further reading, search for "International Lunar Decade" on the internet
      Use the Space Exploration workbook to write up your report. Save it to your computer and fill out the sections.
      Use the resources linked on the Space Exploration Resources page to find the answers and ideas you'll need.
      Requirements 5 and 7 require some thought and research, as these must be based on facts and current technology. A launch vehicle inserting itself into low Earth orbit expends about 95% of its mass to get the remaining 5% into stable orbit. The amount of fuel required per pound is so high, that only the most lightweight, essential and minimum components are practical to be included as payload, and even so, much of the launch vehicle is discarded to reduce mass and therefore lessen the amount of fuel required. Designing a probe to land on another planet or asteroid must take this into consideration. Landing and taking off from a smaller planet than Earth may be practical, but even soft-landing on one of the larger planets such as Jupiter or Saturn would be impossible, even if the probe could be designed to withstand the crushing atmospheric pressure during descent.
      Links to many space missions can be found on the Resources page. Two of the most current missions are Nasa's Phoenix mission to Mars, and the Japan Exploration Agency's Kaguya (aka SELENE) mission to the moon. Several other missions are still in flight or returning data as I write. One of the oldest missions still in flight is one of the Pioneer probes, with much data still needing to be analyzed.
      Reliable power for an inhabited base cannot come only from solar power. The moon is in darkness for about 14 days and the best batteries won't support life until the sun returns. Mars is much further away from the sun and has an atmoshphere, so the sun is much weaker. Energy would need to come from at least three different sources, such as solar, nuclear-electric similar to what is used on long-range probes, and fuel-cells, if anyone were to have a chance at survival.
      Radiation shielding, air, water, food, waste disposal and HVAC are all part of the life-support equation. Although colonies in the far future would need to establish a regenerative eco-system including trees, (it would take 17-18 trees to supply the needs of one person and both the Moon and Mars are sterile environments) the mass, soil requirements and water make this something that you are unlikely to see your lifetime. Rather, technological equipment such as carbon dioxide scrubbers, electrolysis, chemical reactions, and other filters would be needed to keep the air breathable. Hydroponics may be used to supplement both food and air conversion. A big challenge (and one you never see on Star Trek or other futuristic shows) is what to do with the human waste. Any of you who ever had to clean up after their dog can imagine how much a dozen humans could produce over the course of a 1-year mission. This alone is one reason why manned bases, (other than those in Earth orbit where we can send it home on the next shuttle) have not yet been done. We also consume too much precious water to let go to waste, so it must be recycled. There is much info on the Resources link and NASA's Technical Reports Server.
    If anyone has questions or needs advice between meetings, feel free to email Lenny Andrews or call me at 603-743-6920, usually after 7pm.
      Rockets, Launch pads and supplies can be found at most WalMarts and at Toys'R'Us. The Somersworth Ben Franklin Crafts has closed and Michael's at the Newington Mall stopped carrying kits and supplies. I haven't checked the Ben Franklin on 60 Wakefield St Rochester yet, but if anyone has other sources, please e-mail me.
    Get involved! Be a part of the future. By supporting space exploration, my name was entered on the silica glass DVD on The Phoenix spacecraft at the Mars North Pole. Beyond the Moon: A New Roadmap for Human Space Exploration is only one of the many ways you can participate. Explore other ways for yourselves!