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NASA To Launch Manned Moon Missions By 2018

Program Would Start Two Years After Last Shuttle Flight

NASA is expected Monday to announce to America the agency's plans to return to the moon by 2018, over 45 years after the last Apollo mission returned from there.

The space agency submitted its proposal to the White House Wednesday, and to Capitol Hill on Friday. The plan calls for the utilization of current space shuttle components, combined with stacked rocket technology very similar to the Saturn V used to send the Apollo missions to the lunar surface.

In an interview with the Associated Press, George Washington University Space Policy Institute Director John Logsdon said that relying on older ideas and equipment "makes good technological and management sense," as anything overly futuristic would add needless complication and costs to the program.

"The emphasis is on achieving goals rather than elegance," said Logsdon, who was also a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

A manned low-Earth orbital test flight is planned for no earlier than 2012, at least two years after the last shuttle flight is expected to take place.

The current proposal calls for using two separate launch vehicles for each mission, with one rocket carrying the crew and its exploration vehicle. A second, larger rocket would be launch ahead of the crew, carrying cargo, the propulsion system to blast the vehicle to the moon, and the lunar lander. The two would then link up in Earth orbit, and head towards the moon.

Once in lunar orbit, the crew vehicle would be parked in around the moon while the full four-person crew would go to the surface in the lunar lander. Once its one-week mission is completed on the surface -- longer stays are anticipated, as well as a lunar outpost -- the crew would then return to the exploration vehicle, and head back to Earth.

The launch systems would consist of current shuttle booster rockets, engines, and fuel tanks. The crew vehicles would ride atop the rockets, like current Russian Soyuz capsules and pre-shuttle NASA vehicles. Much-modified versions of the Saturn V's large engines would be used launch both rockets.

In a January 2004 speech, President Bush called for the retirement of the space shuttles by 2010, and called for NASA to submit a plan to get back to the moon by 2020, with the eventual goal of reaching Mars.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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