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Remembering the Sail Mission to Halley’s Comet

5 May 2017, 18:00 UTC
Remembering the Sail Mission to Halley’s Comet
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Some years back I had the pleasure of asking Lou Friedman about the solar sail he, Bruce Murray and Carl Sagan championed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1970s. NASA had hopes of reaching Halley’s Comet with a rendezvous mission in 1986. Halley’s closest approach that year would be 0.42 AU, but the comet was on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth, making ground viewing less than impressive. Although the JPL mission did not fly, the Soviet Vega 1 and Vega 2 conducted flybys and the European Space Agency’s Giotto probe, as well as the Japanese Suisei and Sakigake, made up an investigative ‘armada.’
But the abortive NASA concept has always stuck in my mind because it seemed so far ahead of its time. Friedman acknowledged as much in our short conversation, saying that while the ideas were sound, the solar sail technology wasn’t ready for the ambitious uses planned for it. Friedman, of course, would go on to become a founder of The Planetary Society and its long-time executive director, championing sail concepts like Cosmos 1 and the LightSail 1 and LightSail 2 spacecraft. He’s also the author of one of the earliest books on ...

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