WASHINGTON – Greenbelt-based Goddard Space Flight Center will lead a National Aeronautics and Space Administration team in a $400 million to $750 million project to return the United States to the moon, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., announced Friday.
“This is a huge win for Maryland,” Mikulski said in a written statement. “The lunar lander mission will bring more jobs to Maryland and demonstrate the innovative scientific and engineering work that is being done in our state by setting the stage for humans to land on the moon again in the next decade.”
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center will serve as project manager and analyzer, while Goddard will help design a series of robotic space missions that will be necessary before humans can once more become Moon — and eventually, perhaps, Mars — bound.
Goddard spokesmen had not received a news release on the selection and could not comment.
Goddard has become a major player in these missions that is formally called the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program. The first mission in the series, which was undertaken by Goddard and is set to launch in 2008, is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, in which the spacecraft will map and photograph the moon’s surface, search for ice deposits and investigate space radiation, according to Mikulski’s statement.
The second mission, which Goddard will now pursue and hope to launch in 2010, will be the creation of a lunar lander that will help NASA learn about landing safely on the moon and determine whether human life can be sustained there.
On Jan. 14, 2004, President Bush challenged NASA to return the moon and continue onward to Mars and NASA is answering this call with a plan to do so by 2018.
The last time Americans went to the moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Recurrent tile problems on the space shuttle, which led to the explosion of Columbia and recent problems with Discovery, led NASA to return to the original design of the Apollo capsule with some modifications. The revised lander will be larger, place twice as many people on the moon and allow them to stay for months instead of days.
NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin described the new plan in a news conference last week as “Apollo on steroids.” -30- CNS-9