Big NASA projects that unfortunately failed

These are some of the projects NASA has never completed, ideas on a role they didn't convince, or large investments of money that ended up in a museum waiting for someone to remember them.

To come up with the best idea, you first need to discard many others. In NASA's history, we find a large number of successes, great stellar moments that most of humanity easily remembers. However, in its chronology, many abandoned projects have also been left.

The projects that we will explain in this article did not come to fruition, were cancelled and were stored in the agency's archives waiting for someone to rescue them. Long-distance missions or proposals for new forms of exploration, some of which came to have a release date and all prepared when they fell apart.

There are several reasons why they were cancelled, as you can see. Some proposals required very complex technology or were simply not good ideas, but mainly these projects required too high monetary investment and encountered the change of course of U.S. leaders at the time that they had other priorities.

Cancelled or simply abandoned, all these ideas have something in common, any day they can return to the front line. It is sufficient for a person to consider them a good idea again, for current technology to save the obstacles of that time or to have the right budget. Some have even seen very similar projects being created under another name in recent years and with certain changes that make them more conducive.

NERVA: The nuclear rocket to reach Mars

Having conquered the Moon, the U.S. space agency put its focus on the red planet. The challenge was enormous, I had to get more powerful rockets to get to Mars in the shortest time possible. This is when the idea of creating a nuclear-powered rocket came in.

By the 1950s nuclear power was growing in popularity. This led NASA to launch NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) a nuclear propulsion engine that had a mission to take astronauts to the neighbouring planet in four months of travel.

The tests were so successful that in August 1969, he set out to send 12 men to Mars in the early 1980s using rocket engines developed from NERVA. But this would never happen.

The project was cancelled in 1972 after years of cuts in NASA's budget. Back then the United States needed all its concentration and money in the Vietnam War. That same year Apollo 17 closed a stage of exploration and missions to the Moon. President Nixon decided to focus NASA's resources on Earth orbit and the space shuttle program.

However, at NASA they do not throw anything away, everything is recorded for when the occasion permits, to resume the projects. Earlier this decade we began talking about the Prometheus project, a faithful successor to NERVA, and in 2017 they confirmed that NASA had earmarked a budget item to study the development of thermonuclear energy.

Soldiers and space weapons

The idea of military force in space is nothing new, many politicians and military have proposed it in the United States, many of them from the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater was one of them, who in 1964 was running for president of the country. "I am convinced that man's destiny is to enter space and that those who control the open space around us are in a position to control the land," said the one who was a senator from Arizona.

The last one to mention this possible Star war has been Donald Trump. The current White House tenant has created the U.S. Army Space Force, whose space military corps already has a uniform, although it has sparked quite a few taunts.

Before Trump and Goldwater, others thought it would be a great idea and the U.S. Air Force proposed the creation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). The objective of this project was to test the military utility of having human beings orbiting Earth.

Everything was ready for the mol's first launch in December 1969 but was delayed until the fall of 1971. They did not reach that date, the program was cancelled by Defense Secretary Melvin R. Laird in 1969. The cost was too high, they had to increase the budget to $3 billion and had already spent $1.3 billion.

Some of the military astronauts selected for the program ended up working for NASA and flying on the shuttle. One of them was the space management from 1989 to 1992 Richard Truly.

Alpha Centauri Destination

The closest star to Earth is actually a three-star system, Alpha Centauri. Of those three, the two main ones are Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, which form a binary system. They are located approximately 4.3 light-years from Earth. The third star is Proxima Centauri which is about 4.22 light-years from Earth and is the closest star after the Sun.

Among the destinations NASA engineers have set out to achieve, Alpha Centauri is one of them. This idea was collected in the Longshot Project which consisted of launching an unmanned probe to the star in the early 21st century.

The probe would be assembled on the space station and would take approximately 100 years to reach the nearest star. To do this it was necessary to develop several technologies, the most important was a microexplosion unit of pulsed fusion with 1,000,000 seconds of specific impulse.

A large, long-lasting first reactor with an output power of 300 kW was also required. Communications lasers would use a wavelength of 0.532 micrometres, as stars have minimal output power in that frequency band. A laser with an input power of 250 kW would allow a data rate of 1000 bits per second in the maximum range.

Still, the project never went from the first stage of planning, nor did the technologies and elements that would make up the ship materialize. It is not known whether it was a budget problem, some more important project that unbanked this idea or simply that it was too complex for the time.

A walk on Mars and Venus

Today NASA continues to work on the mission that will bring humans closer to Mars, but this idea is nothing new, following the Apollo program and its successive missions on the Moon, the next goal has always been the red planet, as has already been demonstrated in other failed projects we have talked about before.

In the mid-1960s, the Planetary Joint Action Group, a consortium of scientists and engineers from across the agency, proposed flying over Venus and Mars. What's more, two engineers developed a plan that included four Apollo astronauts, who would approach Mars and Venus on an 800-day journey.

In a few years, we may see the first humans land on the red surface of Mars, but in the 80s this idea did not go from paper. Sometimes ideas are not meant to be on the list of milestones in space exploration.

Internet between planets

In this 2005 article in Space magazine, you can see the plans for the Mars Telecommunication Orbiter, the first interplanetary spacecraft whose main mission is to provide communications services to other missions.

This ship was to launch in 2009 and orbit Mars at a greater distance than the rest, about 4,500 kilometres. From there he would communicate with Earth through two radio bands and a new optical communications terminal, it was an incredible demonstration of the use of the near-infrared laser beam for interplanetary communications.

This is, in the end, a way to improve communications between the two planets and make the task easier for future missions. The Mars Telecommunications Orbiter would have speeds below 56K, it wouldn't be used to query Facebook from Mars, but it would be used to maintain the connection with any other ship or rover.

However, like all other ideas in this article, it was finally cancelled. There was no budget or technology problem, on the contrary, there was money and they had the technology, but on other ships. It was completed to discover that the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions had more than enough communications equipment to get the job done and this project was no longer needed.

The Moon's Mobile Lab

We're getting closer and closer to the lunar base where the first astronauts will live on the moon. Yes, we've visited her many times, but we haven't spent much time in it. This is what is known as the Artemis Mission, but many years before this mission will be presented, NASA had already thought about what it would take to live up there.

One of the proposals was a giant laboratory with wheels, a rover with which to circulate on the surface of the satellite collecting samples and studying them, a 2 in 1. NASA vehicles have always been somewhat quirky, but this could be the most extravagant. MOLAB, that's what it was called, was designed as a habitat for astronauts who had to explore the surface of the Moon, a kind of lunar caravan.

For its construction, NASA hired General Motors to make MOLAB a reality. Powered by a modified Corvair engine, it could house a couple of astronauts inside its 13-square-meter cockpit for about two weeks.

Before the project was cancelled, MOLAB was in operation for 6 years with testing in the New Mexico Desert, even serving the U.S. Geological Survey and did pioneering work in mineral deposit mapping and soil sampling.

It was a historical project for the time, but it involved some difficulties, the first was its size. It is about 6 meters high, impossible to carry on a ship to the Moon in one piece on the rockets of that time. The MOLAB project was completely cancelled in 1968.

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