Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Returning to the Moon

NASA's next lunar orbiter will launch later this year, the first step in an ambitious plan to return humans to the Moon--and send them on to Mars. The spacecraft, called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, will use new technology to make precise maps of the Moon's surface, to search for resources such as ice, and to assess the threat that radiation in the environment could pose for humans.
LRO is the most advanced lunar satellite NASA has built, says Richard Vondrak, the project scientist for LRO, who adds that it will provide information that would have been impossible to collect a few decades ago. "We are surveying the Moon in more detail than any other celestial body for the benefit of all countries, including China, Japan, and India, who have said they have ambitions to put people on the Moon in the next 10 to 20 years," adds David Smith, a NASA scientist working on LRO.
LRO is part of NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, a program intended to, among other things, answer fundamental questions of physics, search for extraterrestrial life, and seek new resources, such as power sources, for Earth. The program calls for humans to return to the Moon. But before that happens, says Vondrak, it's necessary to understand much more about the Moon's surface radiation and topography.

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