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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)?
The CEV is America’s new spacecraft for human space exploration. It will be able to ferry crews of three astronauts (plus additional cargo) to and from the International Space Station, but has the capability to carry as many as six crew members. It will take four crewmembers to lunar orbit, and even return up to six crewmembers to Earth on the final leg of a human Mars mission.

Why are we going back to the moon?

Returning to the moon is an important component of the President's Vision for Space Exploration.

The moon also provides opportunities to develop technologies and techniques needed for opening the space frontier. It allows us to learn how to survive long term stays on other worlds while only three days travel time from Earth. This will build confidence that we can stay on the surface of another planet for longer periods of time and ultimately venture to Mars. And of course, it provides opportunities to conduct fundamental science such as astrobiology and geology.

What are we going to do on the moon?

We will learn more about the art of exploration on the moon. Since the last Apollo mission there, robotic missions have raised intriguing new science questions, such as the character of the water ice in the permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles. So there is new fundamental science to be performed. More so, we will be learning to live on the new frontier - we'll be learning how to "live off the land" by making oxygen and rocket propellants from the local materials, and we'll be testing new technologies and operations that will allow us to travel on to Mars and then beyond.

Why don't we fly the shuttle to the moon?

The space shuttle is not designed for use beyond low-Earth orbit. Wings are not necessary. There are several issues that prevent the use of the space shuttle for lunar exploration. To escape the Earth's gravity, any spacecraft must attain a speed of more than 17,500 mph. The shuttle is designed for re-entry from an Earth orbital speed of 17,500 mph, not the 25,000 mph speed of a moon mission. Entering the Earth's atmosphere at this high speed would destroy the shuttle because it would exceed the wing and fuselage load limits. Currently, there is no thermal protection system that would protect the wings from such a high heat load.

Why don't we explore the moon with robotic missions (like we explore Mars)?

NASA has explored the moon using robotic spacecraft, and we plan to continue to use robotic spacecraft to collect lunar data enabling human scientists to return to its surface. Science is just one reason for returning humans to the moon. The primary reason is that the moon provides opportunities to develop technologies and techniques needed for opening the space frontier. It allows us to learn how to survive long term stays on other worlds while only three days travel time from Earth. This will build confidence that we can stay on the surface of another planet for longer periods of time and ultimately venture to Mars and beyond.

Won't human exploration hurt/ cut into science?

NASA's human exploration plans will not impact the Science Mission Directorate's budget, but the human exploration program will engage more sophisticated science.

Why did NASA decide on a capsule design rather than a space plane or space shuttle style spacecraft?

A capsule has many advantages over the two other designs including:
  • Safest, most reliable and affordable approach to meeting crew transportation requirements for exploration missions
  • The capsule shape allows the main thermal protection system for reentry, the heat shield, to be protected (covered by the service module) until it is needed for reentry, unlike winged vehicles whose thermal protective system is exposed for ascent and on orbit.
  • The capsule shape is more stable aerodynamically for entry for both nominal auto guided entries and emergency abort entries.
  • Easier to integrate a launch escape tower.
How can NASA claim this is a new spacecraft, it looks like an Apollo era capsule?

The shape of the spacecraft is a product of physics. The science of space flight hasn’t changed since we started sending humans into space. This is a high tech design that combines the very best of Apollo and the space shuttle. Blunt-body, conical spacecraft simply provide the safest, most economical means of transporting crews to and from space.

Although it may have an Apollo shape, the new spacecraft will have significant advances including:
  • The safest most efficient shape for going beyond low Earth orbit
  • Modern day materials and manufacturing processes
  • Advanced avionics
  • Computers and the experience gained from 40 years of human space flight
  • Increased volume. It can carry more crew and cargo.
  • Improved operational efficiency and overall capability in a vehicle shaped much like the original Apollo capsule
How and where will the spacecraft land?

Unlike Apollo, the new spacecraft will be able to return to Earth and parachute safely to a ground landing, which makes recovery easier and more affordable. However, if necessary, water recovery is also an option. Preliminary landing sites include Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Carson Flats, Nev., and Moses Lake, Wash.

How many spacecraft will be built and how many times can they be reused?

Research indicates each spacecraft can be flown up to 10 flights. Multiple spacecraft will be built, which may be all or partially reusable. The flight schedule will determine how many vehicles need to be built.

What type of launch vehicle will carry the Crew Exploration Vehicle into low-Earth orbit?

A Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) consisting of a solid rocket booster and a space shuttle main engine driven upper stage will carry the spacecraft into orbit. The CLV can carry a payload of 25 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Why was “shuttle derived” selected as the primary choice for the Crew Launch Vehicle, especially with the CAIB chairman Admiral Gehman and the NASA Administrator saying that the shuttle is a complex experimental spacecraft that will never be safe?

Developing a system derived from the most reliable elements of the space shuttle—the solid rocket booster and the main engines-- is the safest, most reliable, and most affordable means of meeting low-Earth orbit crew requirements. Shuttle derived refers specifically to the shuttle's solid rocket boosters and main engines not the space shuttle. We are retiring the shuttle orbiter, not the solid rocket boosters or the main engines.

Once the space shuttle is retired, we will still need heavy lift capabilities to space. Future lunar missions will require significantly greater payload to LEO than provided by the space shuttle. However, a shuttle derived heavy lift launch vehicle could lift 125 metric tons to LEO.

Also, the new spacecraft will provide its crew with a launch escape capability, something that the space shuttle does not have which, combined with its inline design, makes the new vehicle 10 times safer than the shuttle for ascent, according to NASA engineers.

When will the crew launch vehicle be available for integration with the new spacecraft? Wasn't NASA's plan to have the new spacecraft ready when the shuttle retired in 2010 allowing NASA continuous access to space?

We are working to make the new spacecraft operational by 2011, minimizing any gap in human space flight. The original proposal called for the CEV to be ready in 2014, which reflects the vision statement.

Where on the moon is NASA thinking about establishing an outpost?

We will make this decision after we conduct robotic reconnaissance missions of the lunar surface; produce a three-dimensional high resolution map; find and characterize lunar surface resources: and identify potential landing site hazards. Currently, the lunar south pole is a candidate for an outpost site based on its combined science and resource (water ice) potential. We are also consulting with lunar scientists to find the best possible landing spots for science.