Yesterday, NASA announced a plan to send four Astronauts to the moon in 2018. They’ll use Apollo-style technology as well as spare Shuttle parts.
Currently, NASA is shopping contracts around for the CEV. (Crew Exploration Vehicle) This IS the shuttle replacement. It will be designed to go to the ISS, Hubble, and the Moon. The CEV is really just a fattened-up Apollo capsule with better hardware and software that will accommodate four people to the moon (six people when going to the ISS/LEO). It will also carry enough fuel to enable astronauts to land anywhere on the moon’s surface. This is pivotal because there are many “places of interest” that we were simply unable to get to last time. Apollo only had enough to land on it’s equator. Each mission will last seven days and there is no set conclusion to the program.
Is this the beginning of a bold new plan to colonize Luna? Or another vanity project by the US government? The announcement is curiously timed. We’re still reeling from Katrina. Rebuilding hasn’t even begun yet in New Orleans. We’re involved in a seemingly un-winnable and endless war in the Middle East. This country needs something to feel good about. If only for the 5 minutes it takes to read about the Return to the Moon plan. That’s all well and good. I just hope they do it right this time. Trips to The Moon should become routine.
NASA needs to set up shop. We have the time, money, and experience this time to do more than plant a flag, collect some rocks, and drive around in a Jeep. For starters, we should be setting up a permanent habitat. A base station akin to something you’d see on Antarctica. This way people (tax payers) will have something to hold on to. A habitat will be the start of a new colony so the location needs to be chosen wisely. I’m not saying we should stay in one place. But a base of operations should be established.
Secondly, a chemical plant(s) should be constructed to do a number of things. Process Luna ice into drinking water and rocket fuel. Refine lunar soil in search of Helium3. If we’re going to use The Moon as a way point for a mission to Mars, we might as well start generating the fuel for the trip now. A steady supply of drinking water would be vital to any newly established installation.
This is as exciting an announcement as we space freaks have had in a long time, so forgive me for being a tad bit skeptical. It’s been so long since we’ve been to the Moon, I just hope they don’t screw it up.