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Thursday, September 13, 2012

US to Return Humans to the Moon by 2021?

Forty years after the last human mission to the moon and on the day of Neil Armstrong's service in Washington, the No. 2 NASA deputy administrator outlined a plan for a return to the lunar surface mission and a longer-term lunar base where operations would be conducted for months on end.
"We're going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars," NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told the the AIAA 2012 Space Conference in Pasadena, California.
NASA confirmed its planned 2017 moon mission will be unmanned, but agency officials also emphasized that they anticipate a follow-up trip for astronauts to orbit the moon by 2021. But NASA said that at this point, it hasn't developed firm plans for a lunar outpost as reported by the Wall Street Journal's Andy Pasztor.
Garver's comments and the recent report constitute NASA's most detailed description of its goals for manned exploration of deeper space for the next two decades. In addition to sending men to the moon, the agency had previously said it wants to land astronauts on an asteroid around 2025 and on Mars around 2035.
The 2010 NASA Authorization Act, Section 301, was signed into law by President Obama states: "The extension of the human presence from low-Earth orbit to other regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit will enable missions to the surface of the Moon and missions to deep space destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars."
NASA is now operating the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Grail-A and Grail-B lunar gravity mapping probes in orbit of the moon. Next year the federal space agency is planning to launch the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) to orbit the moon from Wallops Island, Va.

The Moscow Times reported this week that “Russia’s renewed focus on the moon may reflect a scaling back of ambition following a string of space failures.” It also “comes as other countries — notably China — are eyeing the moon with greater ambition.” Should the Chinese government also announce plans for a moon base, it would be interesting to see whether the three countries decide to collaborate in the mode of recent shuttle and Soyuz missions, and send humanity back to the moon together. Or, they could establish three bases — a model more like how Antarctica is divided among national initiatives.
Thirty-nine years ago, President John F. Kennedy suggested international cooperation in human treks to the Moon. Perhaps the time is coming for joint efforts among Earth's spacefaring nations to return to the moon in peace for all mankind to stay.

Perhaps in the third decade of the 21st century, humanity will be more internationally united to undertake human missions to the moon, asteriods, and Mars with astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts joining together.

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