As NASA prepares for the ambitious goal of landing a person on the moon within five years, a conference from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) discussed how the future will inform future lunar plans.
] The conference, "Exploring New Space Frontiers," broadcast live from Washington, DC, on Tuesday (April 23rd) to celebrate USRA's 50th anniversary. This event included speakers who worked during the Apollo era or who were inspired by the Apollo era drawing these accomplishments into a modern context.
One of the speakers worked behind the scenes for decades. Christine Darden received a standing ovation after narrating her journey from Monroe, North Carolina, to a NASA's Langley Research Center for a job in 1
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Her career overlapping with the time period described in the 2016 book "Hidden Figures" (William Morrow, 2016) and the movie based on it. Both followed which was later adapted as a movie. Both highlighted the black women at Langley who worked as computers in that era.
After five years' work, Darden asked her boss about a transfer to an engineering group and was denied. Darden was prepared to go back to her original job, teaching, if she did not know what she was looking for, and then she would take her career risk. She asked her boss's boss, a director, why men could do that job and not women.
was fired from NASA, but the response from the director was simple: No one had asked that question before. She was promptly transferred. Darden has worked on many supersonic projects with the engineering group, and in her retirement, she now gives speeches to public school students about how to pursue their dreams.
She explained that she was taking extra classes, and through attending faraway training opportunities while teaching full time, she picked up the qualifications for work at NASA. She called for giving as many opportunities as possible to young people.
"We do not need our young, bright people ready to do work in space, and that's all of our students," she said. "We need them to be top notch, and we need our teachers to be qualified."
Another speaker was on the front lines of Apollo science: Harrison (Jack) Schmitt, astronaut geologist who flew to the moon's Taurus-Litrow Highlands with Eugene Cernan in 1972 as part of the Apollo 17 mission. Schmitt is the only scientist to practice his craft directly on another world. He gave a narration of that mission, sometimes pointing to the lesson from it that NASA could use today.
Schmitt found the orange soil on the moon which consisted of volcanic glass beads ; decades later, scientists, analyzing samples from that region discovered that there were also water molecules, invisible to instruments in the 1970s. Schmitt, 83, continues to work on the science. He recently released a brand new image of the orange soil showing vivid hues of orange and red, never captured in NASA's pictures before.
"I finally got the colors right," Schmitt said.
In his talk, he sprinkled in tips for future moon explorers: Make sure you have a big rocket like the Saturn V, a hire management that is young and ready to quickly adapt to the situation, and keep looking at the old samples that the Apollo astronaut picked up between 1969 and 1972. "I do not recommend that as your only mission, "Schmitt added, explaining that he would like new samples collected as well.
As for what the modern moon exploration might look like, Scott Pace, the National Space Council's executive director, gave some suggestions for explorers to consider . But before he did that, he squashed out the old argument that we've been to the moon before and therefore have no need to return. "Maybe your grandfather did that, or your Ph.D. dissertation advisor did that, but a new generation has not traveled beyond the Earth's orbit in a very, very long time," he said.
The key to a successful lunar Return will be thinking smartly and building a sustainable architecture, he added. One of the steps is to create an orbiting fuel depot – a possible function for NASA's planned Gateway space station – for missions to the moon and Mars, he said. He also called for a network of private entrepreneurs, universities and governments working collectively, each contributing through their own expertise.
"We need science guided by the community," Pace said referring obliquely to the decade surveys and other methods that NASA and other science agencies use to guide their program planning. One of the recommendations he was relayed from the community was to build a station at the south pole of the moon, where there is more continuous sunlight and thus less stress on machines from day-night cycles.
Pace acknowledged that five-year deadline for a human landing is tight, but it has one advantage over a decade-long cadence of launches: "You need focus and priority – you can not be snared in options. There's a clarifying nature having a near-term stressing goal, "he said.
USRA was established in 1969 to help scientists and scholars study the lunar rocks and regolith (soil) that the astronaut was trucked back from the moon between 1969 and 1972. The 50th anniversary of the group's 50th anniversary this year coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, which falls on July 20. USRA's mandate today is greatly expanded to include issues such as education programs, aerospace policies, and the operation and management of a number of facilities through partnerships.  Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook .