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On the moon for good
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


December 05, 2006
Tuesday PM

The space shuttles, the United States' only manned spacecraft, are to be retired in 2010 and the work of caring for the International Space Station largely turned over to others.

So what, then, for this nation's grand plans of astronauts returning to the moon and then going on to Mars?

NASA has unveiled an ambitious and workable - assuming we're willing to pay for it - plan to put a permanent base on the moon. For those who believe in the potential and opportunity of space exploration, both manned and robotic, let us hope this plan passes quickly beyond the stage of big talk, handsome mockups and artists' renderings.

With the plan comes a timetable, also ambitious and workable.

A four-person crew would return to the moon and begin work on the base around 2020. Crews would be there first for a week at a time, then arriving for longer and longer stays as the base was built out until 2024, when they would be there permanently.

The site would likely be on, or close to, the moon's south pole because of extended sunlight for power and the likelihood of finding oxygen, hydrogen and helium for rocket fuel.

The 2020 date might sound never-never, but the rocket for the moon flights, the Ares I, is to have its first test flight in 2009. A robot lander is to scout the base site in 2010, and the first manned flight of the space capsule, the Orion, is to be in 2014.

In 2004, President Bush announced with some fanfare his Vision for Space Exploration calling for manned travel to the moon and Mars. It was favorably received by the public and Congress, but presidents have announced these kinds of schemes before. President Richard Nixon took credit for the Apollo moon landings and then allowed the program to die.

From 1969 to 1972, six Apollo missions landed on the moon. For many Americans, this latest program, if it succeeds, will be picking up where we should not have left off.

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