Thursday, 25 November 2004

Back to the Moon and On to Mars

It hasn't made much of a splash in the papers, but one of the lesser budget items passed by the US congress recently has been George W. Bush's "Moon, Mars and Beyond initiative".

Arguments against it by the pro-Robot-Exploration Mafia are in an American Physical Society Report. I think they're wrong, as I've said so before.

The Financial Details :
Despite the federal budget squeeze and skepticism by many members of Congress, the gigantic appropriations bill that was approved this past weekend contained all of the more than $2 billion that Bush requested for the space exploration program in the 2005 fiscal year. A total of about $14 billion will be sought for the five-year period ending in 2009.

The ultimate cost of the venture, to include a manned landing on Mars if that's approved by future administrations, will run into hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 30 years.
And the Timescale?
NASA earlier this month awarded 70 contracts, totaling about $1 billion, for such items as a robot "prospector" to search for a good site for a manned moon base and for construction equipment to handle mining for possible lunar resources.

Northrop Grumman Corp., the big defense contractor based in Redondo Beach, Calif., was given $18 million to develop an "autonomous walking inspection and maintenance robot" for work on the moon. Boeing Corp., of Chicago, got $31 million for a "precision landing and hazard avoidance technology demonstration" for a future lander.

Meanwhile, NASA presented a tentative exploration strategy paper at the international workshop. It suggested the lunar south pole would be the best target for the first human outpost. Two previous U.S. spacecraft have spotted what appears to be frozen water in the polar region. The water could be used for drinking and also split into hydrogen and oxygen to make fuel for future trips.

The NASA paper proposed a series of unmanned missions to the moon between 2008 and 2011 to collect data and pick a landing site. Between 2011 and 2015, robots would prepare the site for a permanent manned base between 2015 and 2020.

The lunar operations would serve as a test bed and training ground for an eventual Mars landing, the paper said.
For a discussion on why I think this is a a Good Thing (tm) (and lots of references to other opinions) see Bush Gets It Right.

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