Wednesday, November 17, 2004

(B)old new frontiers

Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. yesterday announced plans to team up to design a vehicle to take astronauts back to the moon and even beyond, but they've got to make one stop first - an off-white cinderblock building in Bethpage known as the Grumman History Center.
Stored there are documents and pictures that the former Grumman company used in the 1960s to design and manufacture the spidery-looking vehicle known as the lunar lander that took astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program.
Why would Northrop Grumman and Boeing engineers want to look so far back to compete against other companies for the right to build what NASA is now calling the crew exploration vehicle? Space experts said it is likely the CEV will follow the module and capsule design used in the Apollo program, instead of the reusable spaceplane design employed in the space shuttle system.
Beyond that, Northrop Grumman and Boeing engineers want to know what their Grumman ancestors went through in designing the LM - the spacecraft that put what was then Long Island's largest company squarely into the spacefaring business of the 60s.
Larry Feliu, 78, of Uniondale, who manages the Grumman History Center, said he has already turned over to Jim Berry, Northrop Grumman's chief engineer, 29 documents related to the LM's structural and thermal shielding, handling and instrumentation systems. He is preparing to hand over more.
"It's a guiding light for them," Feliu said of the new generation of space explorers. "Of course, technology has improved" since the 60s. "But there's a lot of things they can learn. We've experienced this thing. Nobody else in the world has done this before or since," he said of putting astronauts on the surface of the moon.
Northrop Grumman and Boeing were working independently on studying ways of developing the still-largely undefined CEV. Company executives yesterday said they decided to combine talents to take on 10 other competitors, including Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., the nation's largest military contractor.
"We are truly all going to have to learn to work together to create a systems capability far beyond anything anybody has tried to do," said Chuck Allen, a Boeing vice president, in a teleconference.
The proposal to create the CEV is partly a reaction to the space shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003 and the White House's review of the U.S. space program. Last January, President George W. Bush announced the CEV as part of what he called his "Vision for Space Exploration." The CEV, Bush said, would ferry astronauts and scientists to the moon, Mars and "to other worlds" after the nation's fleet of space shuttles is retired around 2010.
What the CEV will look like, or how many people it will be capable of carrying is part of what the study is all about, said Michael Braukus, a NASA spokesman. NASA hopes to ask contractors for design proposals by January. A first moon flight is scheduled for 2015.
Space policy analysts said Northrop Grumman and Boeing increased their chances of winning any competition by forming a team. But, they said, there is a long way to go. Among the obstacles, experts said, is the mounting U.S. budget deficit.
John Pike, director of, a space research organization in Washington, D.C., said he had serious doubts the project would materialize. "Everybody is standing up and saluting the president's bold vision, and there's not a one of them prepared to acknowledge it's a charade" because of the deficit, Pike said.
But Mehmet Sozen, an associate professor of engineering and physics at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said he believed in the mission. "One of the main issues is to check for evidence of life, or past life," on planets, Sozen said. Does he think life exists out there? "I can't rule that out," Sozen said.

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