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The United States plans to send four astronauts to the Moon by 2018, as a first step toward an eventual mission to Mars, according to NASA documents published by a US newspaper.
The plan also foresees crews building a lunar outpost, complete with living quarters and a power plant, and scavenge the desolate landscape for fuel and water aboard high-tech dune buggies, the Orlando Sentinel daily said.
The space travelers would blast off on rockets derived from the space shuttle, but would parachute back to Earth in capsules similar to those used in the Apollo program that landed the first man on the Moon.
The Moon missions would be a precursor to 500-day expeditions on Mars, the paper said, citing a study that it said would be made public next month.
President George W. Bush announced last year the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would return astronauts to the Moon by 2020 and conduct missions to Mars later. The study estimates a cost of about 217 billion dollars over the next 20 years.
NASA plans to retire its space shuttle fleet by 2009 and have its new spacecraft ready by 2011.
US space agency managers said the new craft would be far safer than the shuttle, which has come under renewed scrutiny after a large piece of insulating foam fell off Discovery's tank after liftoff on July 13, prompting NASA to ground the rest of the fleet. A similar chunk of foam damaged Columbia in 2003, causing the shuttle to disintegrate upon its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
The plan calls for two lunar missions a year from 2018.
Originally posted by managerie
China's announced plan for a presence on the moon by 2015 has forced the USA's hand in this to assure that the Chinese do not have solo control of the moon. A moon-based laser weapons system would have complete field of view of the earth from a stable vantage point for targetting. We
must have the ability to go to the moon to counter that potential threat.