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¨  What was the real motive for sending people to the moon?
¨  What was the reason for the Space Shuttle accident?
¨  What is done with the launch vehicle after the launch?

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What was the real motive for sending people to the moon?

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 4 June 2007:
This is a good question and you can find a lot of information about this in books and on the Internet.  There are many reasons and those who were a part of the process (and the tax payers who funded it), had many different reasons.  In no particular order, here are MY opinions.  Others will dispute this so please do not take it as fact:

1) Science: Scientists everywhere wanted to learn more about the moon.  Setting foot on another celestial body and later analyzing the rocks and dust brought back, gave scientists materials that they continue to study to this day.  Scientists have to have physical evidence to confirm their theories.

2) Technology: Going to the moon gave us a reason to develop better technology.  Technology, which was developed for space exploration, had a significant effect on what individuals now take for granted in their daily lives.  You can research the many ways that space exploration has lead to development of better (and smaller) products and materials.

3) Why did the United States set their sights on the moon in the 1960s?  The Cold War with the USSR and the Space Race were significant factors.  In many ways, the decisions were political (and patriotic).  President John F. Kennedy issued the challenge for Americans to reach the moon before then end of the decade.  Russia had been ahead of the United States in the "Space Race" up to that point and being the first to land a citizen on the moon (beating the Russians) was something that the American public could get behind.  So rather than be at war, the two major powers went head to head in a battle to conquer Space.

Today, Americans, Russians and citizens from around the world, cooperate in space exploration... together.  While the U.S. shuttle fleet was grounded, Russian Soyuz spacecraft carried NASA astronauts into space.  Astronauts from many different countries work together on the International Space Station.  Engineers in a variety of countries develop the hardware that is sent to space.  The Space program continues to provide scientists around the world with the opportunity to test their theories about space.  It also gives engineers around the world a reason to develop better, lighter, smaller and more reliable technology.

Today's planetary geologists would love to travel to places like Mars.  For now, they have to rely on robotic spacecraft to check their theories.  Soon, the U.S. plans to return to the moon... with more questions about it than they had the first time around!

Please research all these things yourself and decide for yourself what the real motives were.  It is really a matter of perspective.  There was more than a single motive.

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What was the reason for the Space Shuttle accident?

ANSWER from Stephanie Wong on 21 April 2006:
Which space shuttle accident are you talking about?  If you mean the one that happened just a few years ago to the Space Shuttle Columbia, I will give you a brief explanation:

The space shuttle has a big orange fuel tank called the External Tank (ET).  Since the fuel inside the tank is really cold, the outside has to be insulated with foam, which is what makes the tank orange.  The foam is sometimes flaky.  Foam has fallen off the tank many times before, but this time the foam (and maybe some ice with it) fell and hit the leading edge of the orbiter wing.  That's the front part of the wing, where it gets really hot when the shuttle comes back to Earth.  When the shuttle launches, it is going really fast, and if you have something falling in the opposite direction on it, the falling object could become a very powerful projectile.  That is what happened.  The foam fell on the leading edge of the wing and punctured a hole through it.  Nobody knew there was a hole in the wing because falling foam (including small impacts to the orbiter) was a known problem and no one realized it was so hazardous.

When the orbiter returns to Earth, it is going really fast.  The air molecules in the atmosphere hit the orbiter and make it glowing hot.  There are protective heat tiles on the orbiter to protect it from the heat.  However, because there was a hole in a very vulnerable part of the wing, all that hot air went inside the hole, melting the wing.  As the wing and wheel area were being destroyed, pieces of the orbiter started coming apart, and when that happens for an aircraft like the shuttle, it becomes unstable.  The orbiter is designed to fly a very fixed flight path, so when it becomes unstable, it probably tumbled and the heat of the atmosphere hit the wrong places and so it broke apart, killing the crew and causing the cloud of debris that flew across the sky.  It was a very unfortunate and disheartening event.  But hopefully, the people of the space shuttle program have learned from this and can make spaceflight safer in the future.

ANSWER from Michelle Mock on 21 April 2006:
Space travel is dangerous.  Accidents will happen no matter how safe they try to make it.  In the history of the U.S. space program, 17 astronauts have perished in three separate accidents.  The most recent one was the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.  In that accident, an insulation tile was knocked loose leaving a gap in the insulation which caused more tiles to rip off and caused the spacecraft to burn up as it re-entered the atmosphere.  In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded seconds after liftoff due to a booster engine failure.  In the early Apollo program (1967), a fire fueled by oxygen caused the Apollo 1 spacecraft to burn on the launch pad.  It is very sad when we lose people in these kinds of accidents but... space travel is dangerous (and as you can see, fire is one of the many safety hazards).  The astronauts know the risks when they follow that career path.  Astronauts believe in the importance of the work they do and they accept the risks associated with their job.

For more information on human space flight at NASA, go to:
Be sure to read the interview with astronaut Gregory Johnson at:

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What is done with the launch vehicle after the launch?

ANSWER from Roger Herzler on 6 March 2006:
The short answer is "it depends on the mission profile".  Some projects, such as the Space Shuttle fleet, are designed to return nearly all of the major components to Earth for reuse on future missions.  The only major piece of the Space Shuttle that isn't reused more than once is the external tank (the large central tank the Shuttle is attached to).

Most missions are designed to only return critical pieces to the Earth.  For example, the Apollo missions to the Moon only returned a capsule to Earth with the astronauts onboard.  The rest of the vehicle, including the Saturn V rockets and the Moon landers were not returned to the Earth.

If you're seeking answers regarding a specific launch or mission please send us another question and let us know the name of that mission.

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Last Updated:
11 July 2007

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