Washington (AFP) Sep 19, 2005
The United States will send four astronauts to the moon in 2018 in a major return to its pioneering manned missions into space, NASA administrator Michael Griffin announced Monday.
NASA is to design a new rocket based on the technology from its ageing shuttles that are to be retired in 2010, Griffin said. The new rocket could be orbiting in space by 2012.
The last manned mission to the moon was the Apollo 17 rocket in 1972. The new mission will also launch preparations to set up a permanent base on the moon, Griffin said.
He estimated the cost of the moon programme at 104 billion dollars and insisted it should not be affected by the cost of paying for the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq war.
President George W. Bush announced in January last year that NASA would resume manned missions to the moon as a first step toward sending humans to Mars and beyond.
Griffin said the new rocket would be "very Apollo-like, with updated technology. Think of it as Apollo on steroids."
But the new Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will enable astronauts to spend four times longer on the moon than the Apollo astronauts. The new missions will spend up to one week on the moon.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to build a new heavy-lift rocket carrying the CEV, which would be able to take up to six crew.
"This spacecraft and systems will build upon the foundation of the proven designs and technologies used in the Apollo and space shuttle programs, while having far greater capability," Griffin said.
NASA said crews and cargo will be carried into orbit on a shuttle-based launch system, using a solid rocket booster and an upper stage powered by a shuttle main engine.
NASA was badly hit by the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia disaster in 2003. But the agency said the new rockets would be 10 times safer than the shuttles because of their design and new launch system.
The lunar missions will be backed up by a heavy cargo launch vehicle, powered by five shuttle engines, which can carry up to 125 tonnes of equipment and supplies. A lunar lander would be carried by the heavy launch vehicle.
The cargo it carries could wait for up to 30 days in orbit for the astronauts to launch aboard the CEV. Once it has been launched into orbit, the CEV would dock with the lunar lander and the propulsion stage and start its journey to the Moon.
Robotic missions to the moon to study its terrain will be carried out between 2008 and 2011.
"Returning to the moon and sustaining a presence there will demonstrate humans can survive on another world," said Griffin.
He added that it would "build confidence that astronauts can venture still farther into space and stay for longer periods."
Griffin said that in comparable terms, the new moon program would cost only 55 percent of Apollo's missions and would not need an increase in NASA's budget, which will be 16.4 billion dollars in 2006.
But the cost is expected to meet opposition in Congress, which is already facing major debates over the five billion dollars a month going to the Iraq war as well as the rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, which according to some estimates could cost more than 200 billion dollars.
Bart Gordon, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives, said: "This plan is coming out at a time when the nation is facing significant budgetary challenges.
"Getting agreement to move forward on it is going to be heavy lifting in the current environment, and it's clear that strong presidential leadership will be needed."
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Indian Scientists Studying Technologies For Manned Moon Mission
Bangalore (SPX) Sep 19, 2005
Even as India's unmanned mission to moon Chandrayaan -I, slated for 2007-8 is on track, space scientists are looking at technologies needed for a manned mission to the Moon, ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said Friday, reports PTI.
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