The next big goal for the American space program is sending astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. NASA's already developing the big booster rockets to get them there -- a family known as Ares, the Greek name for Mars.
Space scientists are hoping that the same hardware that'll send people to Mars can also send giant telescopes and other experiments into Earth orbit and beyond.
Astronomers have identified several possible payloads for the the largest member of the new family of boosters, known as Ares V. It could send single-mirror telescopes as big as any on Earth's surface to a spot in space known as L2 -- a stable region where the gravity of Earth, Moon, and Sun are all in balance. Such telescopes would provide views that are many times sharper and much deeper into space than those from Hubble Space Telescope.
Ares V could loft even bigger telescopes if their mirrors were made of segments that unfolded in space like a Japanese fan. And yet another mission would send more than a hundred tons of water into Earth orbit to study cosmic rays -- energetic particles from exploding stars and supermassive black holes.
Such missions won't be cheap, though. And efforts to use Apollo hardware for similar missions produced few results. But as long as NASA plans to build big boosters, astronomers will keep dreaming of ways to use them to explore the universe.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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