Volume: 04, Issue: 02 09/21/2005 
Four astronauts could land on the Moon in NASA's new lander. Artist's concept by John Frassanito and Associates, courtesy NASA.
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NASA's new crew exploration vehicle in lunar orbit. Artist's concept by John Frassanito and Associates, courtesy NASA.
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NASA's new heavy lift and crew launch vehicles compared to Apollo, Shuttle vehicles. Image courtesy NASA.
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Durable Orbiter Tracks Mars Changes
Cassini Spots Ghostly Ring Spokes and Possible Titan Shoreline
Crash Claims Life of Dryden Chief Engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer
More Student Lessons on Hurricanes

NASA Unveils Plans for Return to Moon

NASA has released a new plan to bring humans back to the Moon and explore the depths of space. The agency unveiled plans for new methods of transporting astronauts to the Moon and beyond.

America's next generation spacecraft will use an improved, blunt-body crew capsule. It can be configured either to support human explorers or fly unpiloted to carry cargo. Its design allows the flexibility to ferry crews of three astronauts and additional supplies to and from the International Space Station, take four crew members to lunar orbit, and eventually maintain up to six astronauts on a mission to Mars.

"This spacecraft and its 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," said NASA administrator Michael Griffin. "It will be able to carry larger and heavier cargos into space and allow more people to stay on the moon for longer periods of time."

Crews and cargo will be carried into orbit by a space shuttle-derived launch system, consisting of a solid rocket booster and an upper stage powered by a shuttle main engine that can lift 25 metric tons. The spacecraft also will be 10 times safer than the Space Shuttle because of its in-line design and launch-abort system.

NASA chose a Shuttle-derived option for its launch system due to its superior safety, cost, and availability. Specifically, the Space Shuttle's main engines and solid rocket boosters are reliable and rated for human space flight. Much of the industrial base and hardware to support this option are already in place, which will significantly lower development costs. Future lunar exploration missions will be supported by a heavy cargo launch vehicle consisting of five Space Shuttle main engines and two five-segment Shuttle solid-propellant rocket boosters. This combination yields a lift capability of 106 metric tons to low Earth orbit, or 125 metric tons if it incorporates an Earth-departure stage. Although primarily designed to carry cargo, this system can be human-rated to carry crew into orbit.

The study also lays out NASA’s deliberate, milestone-driven journey to the Moon. Returning to the Moon and sustaining a presence there will demonstrate humans can survive on another world and will build confidence that astronauts can venture still farther into space and stay for longer periods. It will open opportunities for fundamental science in astrobiology, lunar geology, exobiology, astronomy, and physics.

The journey will start with robotic missions between 2008 and 2011 to study, map, and learn about the lunar surface. These early missions will help determine lunar landing sites and whether resources, such as oxygen, hydrogen and metals, are available for use in NASA's long-term lunar exploration objectives.

To learn more and view images of the new craft, visit the following website:

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