Monday, April 24, 2006

Lagrangian Points and Nasa's Plan to Explore Space

Author: David Craig

October 3, 2005

Nasa is relying on its ability to determine the Lagrangian points between every set of planets, moons, asteroids, etcetera it intends to explore in order to implement its plan of successful interplanetary space exploration. Although this at first may seem to be a vague and mystical concept, foreign to all but the most overeducated of astrophysicists, in fact it is really quite simple to understand.

The Lagrangian in physics is merely nothing more than an alternative set of two equations for Newton's second law; force equals mass times acceleration. A Lagrangian point between two bodies exerting competing forces on a body therefore is a point at which the forces are equal and opposite. According to Newton's third law, if the net force on a body is zero it will stay at rest if at rest and if in motion it will stay in motion.

In mathematical terms, visualize a graph of a big bowl. The Lagrangian point is the point at the very bottom of the bowl. The energy from the very bottom of the bowl to the top represents the maximum energy required to kick a body at the bottom of the bowl out of the bowl and keep it from rolling back to return to its state of minimum energy. Therefore, in this case of a mass under the influence of two competing gravitational forces, the Lagrangian points are the orbits in which the mass in question will have the greatest ability to withstand the biggest change in net force upon it that would disturb it into an unstable orbit.

How this relates to Nasa and its plans for future space travel is that they have the ability to find the solutions of these formulas to determine the Lagrangian points lying between adjacent planetary bodies along the proposed route of space travel. They are planning to put space stations at these locations. This will make it possible to create stepping stones to extend space exploration outwards as far as you want to go. As it would be unrealistic to expect any spacecraft to be able to return to earth from deep space in the case of emergency or the need for repairs, this makes it hypothetically feasible to conduct space travel without limits in the future.

Sources: 1) NASA Reveals New Plan for the Moon, Mars & Outward By Leonard David; Senior Space Writer - Space.com

About the author: M.S. Physics - University of Minnesota

B.S. Computer Science - University of Oregon

Visit Nasa and General Astronomy Information for more pertinent Nasa and astronomy articles.

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