The ship Orion MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle), which NASA has been developing for years in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is destined to bring astronauts to Mars. Probably its construction would not have been undertaken or would have been done very differently if it were not for the current capacity to analyze large amounts of data. The aerospace engineer spoke about this topic Patrick E. Rodi, who knows closely Orion, since he has worked since 2007 in the project of Lockheed Martin, to whom NASA awarded the contract.
Within the framework of the event Big Data Spain, held in Madrid, the engineer explained that every time more information is produced in the aerospace field. The search for exoplanets of the Kepler telescope or the satellites that auscultate the Earth generate a immense amount of data that "could not have been processed 20 or 30 years ago".
But the data analysis goes beyond a quiet study. It is also needed to make decisions in real time. Rodi gives the example of the future landing on Mars of a manned mission. The ship approaches the surface and scans it to collect data. "You have to photograph the area, analyze the information and let the artificial intelligence make the decision: if the situation is propitious to land or you have to look elsewhere," he says. "To do this quickly and with sufficient precision we have to employ big data concepts."
After more than two decades in the demanding aerospace industry, Rodi has just taken a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rice University, in Texas. Now you see things from the background, but you can guess the deep interest in next spatial landmarks and, in particular, by the fate of the program to which he has dedicated part of his career. "I think the biggest thing in Orion is that it is about jumping out of Earth's orbit. It is a capacity. We can reach asteroids, go to the Moon and, with improvements, we can reach Mars. "
The key to the Orion spacecraft is that it will bring back the crew on high-speed missions. Instead, Boeing's CST 100 vehicle and SpaceX's Dragon capsule are not technically ready for return (Elon Musk decided last year to develop another ship to land on Mars).
Although the private sector has become infatuated with the red planet. Elon Musk and his SpaceX are the epitome of these aspirations. Very possible according to Rodi, as long as you put money. "There's capital out there to do this. And if there are investors who decide they want to do it, money can appear. "
For NASA, however, the running times are over. He did not stop competing with the USSR to rival the private sector. Today its priority is to go step by step and protect the crew at all times. "NASA today would not allow many of the things that the mission Apollo 11 He did, "says Rodi in reference to the great risks that were taken with the legendary Neil Armstrong expedition that reached the Moon.
The importance of the colonies
Now what is at stake is not political prestige. Orion It will be a ship prepared to go beyond the Earth for scientific interest. Although with a nuance linked to human survival, according to Rodi. "I think it's important that we leave the planet and establish colonies in other parts of the solar system and, in the future, go to other places in the galaxy," says the former Lockheed Martin. "Over time an asteroid could impact Earth or ourselves could destroy it, either through war or pollution. "
The big problem with these challenges are the distances. There are investigations in the field of numerical relativity, based on Einstein's Theory of Relativity, dedicated to exploiting its rules to travel faster than light. But at the moment it is an empty search. The manned trip to Mars is framed in a more tangible framework. And the technology that will be developed can be applied to ends more linked to the Earth, how to study climate change.
Orion It could even influence transportation. "High-speed atmospheric reentry data and all the models we have been developing can be applied to hypersonic vehicles," says the aerospace engineer, who has devoted part of his work to hypersonic speed (above Mach 5 or 6,150). km / h). Thanks to the ambition to set foot on Mars, the jets and hypersonic planes will be closer. More than what people believe, according to Rodi's optimism, who would like to see him in 10 or 15 years, although he recognizes that it is more realistic to think of a term of 15 to 20 years.