October 23, 2009

Panel Urges Cancellation of NASA Moon Plans

A special independent panel is encouraging the White House to reconsider plans for having NASA send astronauts back for another walk on the moon.

On Thursday, the panel's chairman stated that NASA has picked the wrong destination with the wrong rocket. Ares, the test-flight version of the new rocket, is sitting and waiting for this month's lift-off on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

The panel members said NASA should start focusing on larger rockets, The Associated Press reported.

Chairman Norman Augustine, of the panel put together by the White House to review NASA's spaceflight plans, said it would be more logical to land on an asteroid nearby or on one of Mars' moons. He claims that the trip to one of these destinations could take place sooner than going back to the moon in 15 years as NASA currently has tentatively planned.

The plans to go back to the moon were initially pushed by former President George W. Bush following the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster.

However, the problem with the moon-Mars plan is that there is not enough money to fund it since there have been budget diversions, the panel explained in a 155-page report. Beginning in 2014, NASA must have an additional $3 billion each year to support astronauts traveling beyond Earth's orbit, the panel said.

One of the most important topics being discussed is where to explore space. The panel outlines eight options in the report and leaves President Barack Obama to make the final decision.

Three of the options are part of what the panel refers to as a "flexible path" to explore someplace other than the moon, ultimately traveling to a Mars landing in the very distant future. Augustine said the flexible path option, which includes no-landing flights around the moon and Mars, would be more practical in terms of both physics and finances.

There is a lot of fuel involved in landing on the moon and then launching back to the Earth because of the moon's gravity, and carrying the fuel back and forth also costs money.

Landing and returning from asteroids or comets near Earth or Martian moons Phobos and Deimos would require less fuel, said Augustine.


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