In my opinion, the development of the Ares V is NASA's most important project. The worse mistake the US ever made was decommissioning our only heavy lift vehicle (the Saturn V) back in the early 1970's. The Saturn V not only put men on the Moon but placed America's first space station (Skylab) into orbit. During the gap between the Apollo moon program and the Space shuttle program, we could have used the Saturn V to launch more Skylabs and the first large rotational simulated gravity space stations.
By the time the Space Shuttle program had begun, it would have already had a space station or stations to visit. Then we could have used the Saturn V in combination with the Space Shuttle to set up a permanent base on the Moon during the 1980s using reusable OTVs (orbital transfer vehicles) and reusable lunar landers. The 1980's could have been the greatest space era in American and world history.
With the development of the Ares V, America will once again have heavy lift capability again. The Ares V will enable us to launch over 180 tonnes into low earth orbit (Skylab only weighed 77 tonnes); 70 tonnes into lunar orbit; and between 15 to 20 tonnes on the lunar surface. The Ares V will give America the ability to begin the human colonization of the Moon and the ability to exploit the natural resources of the moons of Mars in order to make a lunar colony independent of the Earth's resources.
Unfortunately, we might not see the Ares V in operation until after the year 2020-- if ever-- thanks to the lack of proper funding for the project. Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin blamed the Bush administration for the lack of adequate funding for the Ares V program.
NASA's $19 billion a year budget (less than two months in Iraq) may not have enough money in it for the Ares V. The replacement for the Space Shuttle, the Ares 1, may cost over $40 billion dollars over the next 6 years. Our commitment to the International Space Station (the mission to nowhere) is going to cost over $2 billion a year.
If I were Charles Bolden, Obama's new NASA administrator, I would:
1. Prioritize funding for the Ares V in order to accelerate the its development.
2. I would change the Constellation lunar sortie program to a lunar base program with a prefabricated lunar facility already built and properly shielded by robots sent by the Ares V before the first astronauts arrived on the lunar surface.
3. I would ask Obama to add an extra $4 billion a year specifically to fund the Ares V and the lunar base program. And if he said that he couldn't raise the NASA budget then I'd recommend that the money come from reducing our commitment to the ISS and ending the development of the Ares 1 and replace it with the much cheaper man rating of one of the Delta Heavy vehicles.
It would be nice to have humans return to the Moon and to a permanent facility during the last year of the Obama administration in 2016. But I guess I'd be satisfied if America had a moon base at least before the year 2020. John Kennedy got us to the Moon in 8 years using primitive 1960's technology. So I would be extremely disappointed if it took America more than a decade to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon-- our closest celestial neighbor and the gateway to the solar system.
Links and References
1. Ares V (Wikipedia)
2. Constellation (Wikipedia)
3. Constellation (NASA)
4. Ares V (NASA)
3 weeks ago