NASA gets ready to go back to the moon - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

NASA gets ready to go back to the moon

February 27, 2007

Huntsville, AL--Somewhere in a group of young space campers at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center could be the first person to set foot on Mars. NASA plans to put astronauts on the Red Planet about the time these kids would be old enough to take on the mission. "The opportunities to go to Mars look like they open up about 2035," said Charles Chitwood.

Chitwood is the Deputy Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center that develops NASA's rockets.  He says humans should return to the moon much sooner than that. "Somewhere around 2018."

As NASA plans for the future, shuttle flights will become a thing of the past. After this spring's 117th space shuttle mission, there will be fewer than 15 shuttle missions left. --"Then we'll be retiring that system and building a new set of rockets to take us back to the moon and on to Mars," Chitwood said.

In a sense NASA is going back to the future. In many ways the next generation of rockets, The Ares, will be a modern version of the old rockets that first took us to the moon. Chitwood said, "that system won't look that different from the things that you had in the 60s, but it'll be different in the same way your cars are different. It's more reliable. It's safer. It's more fuel efficient, and it accomplishes more at a lower price."  

Retired astronaut Owen Garriott rode one of those old Saturn rockets all the way Skylab where he spent two months in 1973. Thirteen years later, he was on the ninth space shuttle flight. He fully supports NASA's plans to go back to the moon and more.  "Only through curiosity have we really advanced in our thinking and learned new things about our world and about ourselves," Garriott said.

Garriott said the work of his generation of astronauts helped keep the United States the world's greatest economic, scientific, and military power. "We would be apt to find ourselves made further behind were it not for the relatively modest amount of money that we have spent on space."

The people planning future space projects say the fascinating research conducted in space led directly and indirectly to many technological advances we enjoy today.  "Many of the people NASA inspired in the 60s to study math and science ultimately created the technological marvels of the internet and personal computers and cell phones that we all enjoy," Chitwood said.

What future developments will space exploration lead to? What will we learn by establishing a permanent base on the moon and by landing on Mars? No one knows.   But we do know NASA is committed to a new generation of space travel with a new generation of explorers who just might get their first taste of space at space camp.