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NASA Planning Steps To Moon, Mars

back to the future or forward to the past? - (Apollo 15 file photo)
 by Frank Sietzen
 Washington (UPI) Mar 01, 2004
NASA's plan to implement President George W. Bush's moon-Mars-beyond space vision will use small incremental steps called space policy building blocks, according to documents just released by the agency.

The strategy is meant to keep costs low and make sure no one policy direction will threaten the evolution of the overall project.

The first of the building blocks, called Lunar Testbeds and Missions, will include a major new series of space robotic probes to the moon, along with an accelerated program of unmanned Mars exploration. Both elements were covered in funding requests in the fiscal year 2005 budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which is now under review in Congress.

NASA already has announced the first part of the Bush plan: a new series of reconnaissance satellites to be launched into lunar orbit. Scheduled for blast-off in 2008, the satellites will map the lunar surface in greater detail than ever before, identifying and classifying features such as large rocks and boulders, rills, hills and canyons. The idea would be to create maps that visiting astronauts -- and their robotic companions -- can use to navigate their landers and roving vehicles.

Mars Has Hydrogen Peroxide In Atmosphere
Denver, March 1 (UPI) -- A Colorado astronomer has detected hydrogen peroxide for the first time in the Martian atmosphere, the Denver Post reported Monday.

Todd Clancy of Boulder's Space Science Institute was able to gain data from Hawaii's James Clerk Maxwell Telescope indicating the presence of hydrogen peroxide in Mars' atmosphere.

A summary of his work and that of the Space Science Institute has been published in this month's issue of the journal Icarus.

Clancy gained telescope time when Mars was closest to the sun, meaning the planet warmed, said project team member Brad Sandor. Warmth produced more water vapor in the atmosphere. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by the action of sunlight on water.

When past searches for the chemical came up empty, researchers wondered if their atmospheric models were wrong.

So the project could have given new life to the models or helped to undermine their credibility.

Hydrogen peroxide exists in trace amounts in the Martian atmosphere -- in doses as low as ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons on Earth.

Other elements include a robot landing on the moon in 2009, on a mission to begin to define the technologies and components for extended human stays on Earth's natural satellite. Gradually, NASA's plans call for robotic missions of up to a year in duration. The robots would establish a communications network on the moon, demonstrate reusable launch technology and explore ways for planetary missions to use the moon as an orbiting Cape Canaveral -- with one-sixth the liftoff thrust requirements as Earth.

The second building block is called Mars Research, Testbeds and Missions. Here, the space agency will begin developing a more aggressive robotic exploration of Mars, beginning in 2011. Called human precursor missions, these new rovers and orbiters will start to demonstrate technologies that humans would employ during trips to the red planet in future decades.

These tests would include ways for manned ships to enter the Martian atmosphere and slow down to gain orbit, new orbital rendezvous techniques, docking of robotic spacecraft together, and test precision landing techniques.

About the time the first human landings on the moon occur, around 2015, robots on Mars will start to test ways to extract resources from the planet's soils that could sustain life or create rocket fuel. The success of these missions will determine the timing of the first human Mars voyages.

Also on tap for the Mars robots is assembly and operation of a new type of power system that could provide electricity to a Mars base. Derived from Project Prometheus -- NASA's effort to create atomic rockets and power plants -- the pilot plant will be tested first on the moon, then on Mars by robots. The machines will assemble habitats, and the new atomic reactors and power stations, to construct a primitive base camp that could await occupation by visiting astronaut crews.

One other building block element: Astronauts will begin to learn assembly skills during space shuttle flights and stays on the International Space Station, as well as on early visits to the moon.

The goal of all these efforts, NASA officials say, is to pave the way and establish extensive experience in working in space that will be useful regardless of the destination selected -- the moon, Mars, asteroids or even more distant locations in the solar system.

Frank Sietzen covers the aerospace industry for UPI Science News. E-mail [email protected]

This is a new UPI series examining the Bush administration's plans for future U.S. space exploration. Next: Robots to the outer moons -- and designing the first moon lander in three decades.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2004 by United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of by United Press International.

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NASA Releases Budget Vision As Bush Space Plan Faces Reality
 Washington - Feb 11, 2004
NASA unveiled its budget request to Congress Tuesday with the release of two companion documents: the "Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Estimates" and "The Vision for Space Exploration," a framework for exploration of the solar system and beyond.

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