Those of you who follow space will be aware the cornerstone of the ‘Moon, Mars and Beyond’ program which NASA has been tasked to impliment is a new vehicle. The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is in many ways a return to the Apollo era but does have many useful features, not the least of which is putting the travellers on top. This avoids foam strike problems and at the same time allows the use of proven-in-anger escape tower technology.
It is still a rather old design. Nonetheless it had some features which those of us in the space community apploauded. The biggest win of all was the use of Methane-LOX propulsion. When I read a late draft of the new system plan, this was the single item I found exciting. M-LOX meant someone was serious about going off Earth to stay. It meant someone had read and understood what Bob Zubrin has being saying (perhaps yelling from the prayer town would be a better description) for nearly two decades. You see, M-LOX can be manufactured while sitting on the surface of Mars. The gases of the Martian atmosphere are all you need to manufacture it using a more than century old indstrial process. If you are going to Mars and going to stay, this is the fuel you will use.
That must be why NASA is dropping it although the external excuse is:
Any costs associated with accelerating the five-segmented booster and modified J-2 development programs will be offset in part by dropping plans to develop a liquid-methane fueled engine for the CEV, Hecker said. “From a budget standpoint, it came up as a wash,” he said. “We’re not asking for more dollars.”
NASA is dropping the most important thing they are doing in order to speed up a return to the Moon which will probably be done privately by 2025 anyway.
You may disagree with NASA doing anything at all, but whatever you may desire, they are there. They are a fact of life in the space game. It is much preferable for us to see them waste taxpayer money on something that is at least marginally useful to private sector space ventures.
You can read more discussion on this issue at On-Line Ad Astra, a publication of the National Space Society.
Please excuse any errors as my glasses disapeared whilst transiting Toronto Airport last Thursday and I am writing this by squinting at the screen…