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America is planning...
Human Flights to the Moon and Mars
A Return to the Moon and a New Wave to Mars
BRIEF HISTORY OF MOON EXPLORATION      BRIEF HISTORY OF MARS EXPLORATION      THE NEW MOON RACE      EXPLORING EARTH'S MOON

NASA artist imagines future explorers on the Red Planet
NASA artist imagines future explorers on the Red Planet.
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In NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, humans will return to the Moon before 2020, and that will pave the way for journeys to Mars and beyond.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. As the first step on a long path back to the Moon, NASA will launch a robot probe to the Moon in 2008 to create high-resolution maps, seek landing sites, and continue to search for water ice and other useful resources.

The U.S. space agency will send the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study the Moon in October 2008. Data sent back to Earth from the LRO will will facilitate returning humans safely to the Moon and enable extended stays.

LRO will work at least one year orbiting over the Moon's poles some 20-30 miles above the lunar surface. It may work as long as five years observing the surface and acting as a communication relay satellite for other spacecraft above and on the lunar surface.

The spacecraft should be able to: A smaller companion, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, will be launched with LRO. After launch, LCROSS will travel independently and crash into the lunar surface in search of water ice.

The Bush plan. More than three decades after the last man walked on the Moon, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed sending humans there again, to build a permanent base, and then on to Mars.

"The desire to explore and understand is part of our character," Bush said in January 2004. "We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this – human beings are headed into the cosmos.

"Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit."

The new goals include sending robot explorers to the Moon by 2008 and human explorers by 2015.

American astronauts would return to the Moon around 2015 with a human base to be completed on the Moon soon after. Human flights to Mars would follow in the next decade. The Moon would be used as a steppingstone for manned trips to Mars and beyond.

NASA artist concept of future Moon workers
A NASA artist imagines future Moon workers
click to enlarge
Endorsement. Space professionals and enthusiasts have had a powerful desire to return to the Moon since the last Apollo astronaut left there in 1972. The Bush call for exploration of the Moon and Mars was the boldest space goal since President Kennedy called in 1961 for sending astronauts to the Moon. That goal was accomplished with six manned flights between 1969-1972.

In September 2006, a special National Research Council panel of the National Academy of Sciences declared the Moon "priceless" to planetary scientists. The group gave a strong endorsement to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's plan for returning to the Moon. The scientists said lunar exploration will open the way to broader studies of the Earth and Solar System.

The National Academy of Sciences is established by Congress to advise the government on science and technology. The 15-member special National Research Council panel included university scientists, retired members of the space industry, and a journalist. They said the Moon's geological record could reveal the Moon's secrets to astronauts on the scene.

Bush wants the United States to establish an "extended presence" on the Moon in preparation for exploring Mars. NASA is spending $12 billion over five years toward landing on the Moon.

The scientists want NASA to study the composition and structure of the Moon's interior, the lunar atmosphere, and the Moon's potential as an observation platform for studying Earth, the Sun, and deep space astronomy.


Why Go Back Now?

Twelve American astronauts walked on the Moon between 1969-1972. No human being has been there since, so why go back now?

Humans living on the Moon and Mars would allow Earth to exploit numerous opportunities for the generation of energy, astronomy, communications, mining, industrialization, and commercialization, as well as the future expansion of humanity across the Solar System.

In later decades, Mars could be the jumping off point for human flights beyond the Asteroid Belt to the giant planet Jupiter. In particular, planetary scientists would be interested in landing on and exploring one or more of the moons of Jupiter.

The renewed American interest in the Moon and Mars may have been stimulated at this time by the highly visible and successful first manned spaceflight by China in 2003. China, India, Japan, Europe and others want to probe the Moon and eventually land there.

What is needed? These accomplishments are needed to meet the goals: Most of the technology already is at hand, but it will be expensive to build the ships to carry human beings to the Moon and Mars. President Bush suggested increasing NASA's annual budget by five percent to pay for the expensive new plan. He also planned to ask other countries to participate in the project, which means rockets and spacecraft from other nations could play an important role.

In the last three decades, a handful of Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts have spent long periods in Earth orbit, including a few with many months and even years in orbit aboard space stations.

Getting there. There are a variety of possible technologies for transporting astronauts and their gear to the Moon and Mars: More powerful rockets. None of America's space rockets today are powerful enough to launch something as large and heavy as one of the old Apollo capsules and landers. Back in the 1960s, it took five years to develop the huge Saturn 5 Moon rocket, which lifted Apollo capsules and Moon landers to Earth orbit. Development of the rocket after the last Apollo flight to the Moon in 1972.

A launcher as powerful as the Saturn 5 Moon rocket has not been needed in recent times because it offers a great deal more boost than needed to carry today's commercial and military satellites to Earth orbit.

The most powerful expendable rockets in the American fleet today are the Atlas-5 and the Delta 4, each of which could loft about half of the weight needed for a human Moon mission. Using weaker rockets would require multiple launches, which would make planning more complex and increase the risk of failure.

Lockheed Martin Corp. artist rendering of an Orion crew vehicle launching atop an Ares I rocket
Lockheed Martin Corp. artist rendering of an Orion crew vehicle launching atop an Ares I rocket.
Lockheed Martin Corp. artist rendering of an Orion in lunar orbit, with Earth in the background
Lockheed Martin vision of an Orion in lunar orbit, with Earth in the background.
The new flight hardware. Construction of the International Space Station will be completed by 2010 and the U.S. shuttle fleet will be retired. After that, new human flight hardware will come into use.

A new NASA program called Constellation already is preparing the necessary next generation of human spacecraft. Ares and Orion re-use some of the best elements of the old Apollo and space shuttle programs for safe, reliable systems.


The New Moon Race

A new Moon Race is developing. In addition to the United States, the nations of Japan, Europe, China, India and Russia also are interested in exploring the Moon over the next two decades.

Japan. Japan became the third country ever to send a spacecraft to the Moon: Europe. The European Space Agency conducted its first exploration of the Moon with a probe about the size of a home clothes washing machine – the Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology (SMART-1) spacecraft launched in September 2003. It reached the Moon in November 2004. Testing astronomy and communication technologies, SMART-1 had a high-resolution camera, an infrared spectrometer, and a battery of miniature instruments to: SMART-1's mission concluded with an intentional crash on the Moon in September 2006.

China. China intends to launch a probe called Chang'e No. 1 in December 2006 to fly out to the Moon and enter lunar orbit. From there, it would send photos and science data back to Earth.

Chinese exploration of the Moon would involve four stages: India. India plans to explore the Moon and with an unmanned probe in 2008. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) calls the Moon flight project Chandrayan Pratham, which has been translated as First Journey to the Moon or Moonshot One.

Chandrayan-1 would fly in a polar orbit 60 miles above the lunar surface. The project's main objectives are high-resolution photography of the lunar surface using remote-sensing instruments sensitive to visible light, near-infrared light, and low-energy and high-energy X-rays. The spacecraft would carry X-ray and gamma-ray spectrometers to send back data that scientists on Earth would use to produce a high-resolution digital map of the lunar surface.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has agreed to support the project by providing three science instruments for Chandrayan-1. They will be identical to those that orbited the Moon on ESA's Smart 1 spacecraft. The United States will supply a radar instrument designed to locate water ice on the lunar surface.


A Brief History of Lunar Exploration

The suggested timeline would see lunar exploration return almost 50 years after the USSR and the U.S. sent their first spacecraft to orbit the Moon: Previous human flights to the Moon. The only country to have landed astronauts on the Moon is the United States, with its Apollo series of manned missions from 1969-1972. There were nine Apollo capsule flights to the Moon between 1968 and 1972. Of those, six were landing flights. Each Apollo flight to the Moon carried three persons. On each landing flight, two persons flew down to the lunar surface in a small Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), while one astronaut stayed in the Apollo capsule orbiting above the Moon.


A Brief History of Mars Exploration

Many robots from Earth have probed Mars. The United States, Russia, Europe and Japan over four decades have sent numerous flybys, orbiters and landers to Mars.

On December 2, 1971, the Soviet Union's Mars 3 was the first spacecraft to make a successful soft landing on Mars.

Later, three American spacecraft completed highly successful landings on the surface – the pair of Viking landers in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder 21 years later in 1997. Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004  »»

In addition, several spacecraft have either flown by the Red Planet, sending back picture postcards as they traveled on, or have dropped successfully into orbit around Mars.

Numerous other Mars spacecraft over the years either failed to leave Earth at all or were unable to find their way correctly to the Red Planet.

In the 21st century, five probes from America, Europe and Japan have flown to Mars, including Europe's and Japan's first solo missions to Mars.
History of past exploration:
Apollo lunar landings 1969 - 1972  »»
Where are the Apollo lunar rovers now?  »»
The story of human exploration of Mars  »»
Mars Exploration Rovers in 2004  »»
Mars Exploration  »»
About Mars... > »»
Moon and Planets Exploration Timeline  »»
NASA Mars and Moon Futuristic Image Gallery  »»
Moon and planets exploration timeline  »»
America's future plans:
NASA Mars and Moon futuristic image gallery  »»
NASA Exploration Systems News  »»
NASA vision for space exploration  »»
NASA space explorations systems  »»
NASA's new spaceship image gallery, video and Flash animation  »»
NASA Constellation program  »»
NASA Orion crew vehicle  »»
Ares launch rockets  »»
NASA lunar flight plan  »»


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Mariner 4 Flyby 1964
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Mars Meteorites - JPL
Explorations Planned:
2003 & Beyond - Goddard
2005 & Beyond - JPL
Mars Exploration - JPL
Plans to Explore Planets

Solar System:
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Welcome to the Planets - JPL
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Mars - Athena - NASA Ames
Solar System Tour - BBC
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Windows...Universe - UMich
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Solar System - STO
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Artist conception of Mars with water four billion years ago
NASA CONCEPTION OF MARS WITH
WATER FOUR BILLIONS YEAR AGO
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