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Outposts on the Moon, Footprints on Mars: NASA’s Future Exploration Plans
By Beth DickeyRick Gilbrech got hooked on NASA as a seven-year-old in the summer of 1969. “Before that, I wanted to be a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “Then my dad kept us up to watch Neil Armstrong put the first footprints on the moon, and I decided I was going to be an astronaut. That’s how the spaceprogram changed my life.” A heart murmur ended his dream of joining the astronaut corps, but it could not stop him from becoming a rocket scientist. After a 16-year NASA career that included three stints at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where engines for a new family of moon rockets are being tested, Gilbrech now leads NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. He typifies NASA peoplewho are working to achieve the nation’s goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020. Project Apollo’s spectacular missions inspired inspired their dreams as kids and motivate their achievements as adults. These leaders are outfitting a new generation of lunar explorers with spaceships, landers, rovers, life support and all the other technological necessities for a long stay. “Our job is to setNASA on a path to build towns on the moon and put footprints on Mars,” said Gilbrech, the associate administrator for exploration.It was the night before Christmas in 1968 when the crew of Apollo 8 presented the first live broadcast from orbit around the moon. Seven-year-old Jeff Hanley sat transfixed by the television as three astronauts showed the first pictures of Earth from deep space and tookturns reading from the Bible’s Book of Genesis. He knew then that he wanted to go to the moon, too. When his eyesight did not meet NASA’s astronaut minimum years later, Hanley opted for a career in mission control. He had been guiding orbiting spacecraft from the same historic control rooms where his predecessors kept watch over Apollo capsules and had risen to the post of chief flight directorwhen agency leaders tapped him in 2005 to manage NASA’s Constellation Program. Hanley heads a nationwide team developing a new space transportation system that blends the best of heritage technology with the latest advancements in propulsion, avionics, aerospace materials and computer-aided design. “To me, the most gratifying thing is to see NASA draw from a talent base at all 10 of its fieldcenters to get this done,” he said.Taking cues from a 2004 Bush administration directive and the 2005 NASA Authorization Act, NASA has begun the work to build the spacecraft, launch vehicles and space systems, and define the exploration strategy that will enable the establishment of a lunar outpost sometime in the next 20 years. NASA will honor its commitment to its partners and finish assembly of theInternational Space Station first, then retire the space shuttle by the end of 2010. A new space transportation system for humans will make its first flight – to the space station – by 2015 and first mission to the moon by 2020. Plans are taking shape for the flights from Earth, the lunar outpost and lunar surface operations. Orion, the vehicle that will carry the explorers, and Ares I, the rocketthat will launch them, already are under contract. NASA will distinguish its 50th year by finalizing Orion’s design, conducting the first tests of Orion’s launch abort safety systems and Ares I’s rocket engine, and launching the first mission of the modern moon program. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite will launch atop a single Atlas V rocket fromCape Canaveral, Fla., to map the surface and help further the search for possible water.Unlike the Cold War that prompted NASA’s formation in the late 1950s, the chief catalyst for this 21st century activity was the shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. Accident investigators concluded NASA needed a new goal, and the president and Congress embraced the recommendation. What is different about the...