Nasa reaches for the Moon - as a launch pad to Mars

The space agency's administrator, Michael Griffin, outlined the project, which he said fulfilled President George Bush's ambition to see a return of manned lunar missions.

Wary of critics seizing on the cost of the venture - following the Gulf coast's multi-billion dollar brush with Hurricane Katrina, Mr Griffin called on Americans to show some long-term vision. "When we have a hurricane, we don't cancel the Air Force. We don't cancel the Navy. And we're not going to cancel Nasa," he said.

The programme will see the development of the long-awaited successor to the ageing space shuttles, which promises to be "ten times safer", according to Mr Griffin.

It also served as a remarkable reminder of how little has changed since the Apollo missions which last delivered an astronaut to the Moon in 1972. The project, for example, will use solid rocket fuel and will require the return capsule to land on solid ground with the use of parachutes. But Mr Griffin said that it should be thought of as "Apollo on steroids". A four-person lunar expedition crew would make use of a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) fitted with solar panels and there would also be the ability to extract fuel from the Moon, he said.

"We had many review boards and review panels study this architecture as we developed it," he said. "Those groups did include several people from the Apollo generation." The plan outlined yesterday would require the astronauts to rendezvous in earth's orbit with a separate pre-launched vehicle, and then make the outbound voyage to the Moon. Once in lunar orbit, all four crew members would travel down to the moon in a lander. They would depart the CEV, putting it in autopilot mode as they spent seven days on the lunar surface. By contrast, the Apollo missions involved six two-person teams landing at the Moon's equatorial region. Each expedition had an additional astronaut who remained in lunar orbit.

Mr Griffin said that the $104bn return-to-the-Moon mission would also see astronauts cover much more territory than Apollo moonwalkers, who were restricted to the area around the Moon's equator. One of the goals is likely to be an attempt to find ice that may be frozen within shadowed craters at the moon's poles.

"We have contacted a large group of lunar experts and asked them what the points of interest were to them," he said. "They ranged from the poles to the equator - this architecture can service them." Nasa has been working on a return to manned lunar missions ever since President Bush outlined his so-called Vision for Space Exploration that could see permanent communities on the Moon as a stepping off point for missions to Mars.

Then he said: "Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn to unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit. So let us continue the journey."

At the time, Mr Bush's political motives were questioned and others questioned whether the proposals were part of a broader US plan to establish weapons in space.

Almost immediately the project has run into criticisms on Capitol Hill.

"This plan is coming out at a time when the nation is facing significant budgetary challenges," House Representative Bart Gordon from Tennessee, said. "Getting agreement to move forward on it is going to be heavy lifting in the current environment, and it's clear that strong presidential leadership will be needed."

Mr Griffin dismissed suggestions that the cost of developing the project would be better spent on helping the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. He said the mission was "long term investment for our future" and that a lot of other hurricanes and natural disasters would likely befall the US and other countries before the 2018 launch date.

"We must deal with our short-term problems while not sacrificing our long-term investments in our future. Experts have decided to use the project as a means of dealing with task of finding a successor to the shuttle, which has been plagued with problems.

The same problems with falling debris that doomed the Columbia in 2003 recurred in July with the launch of Discovery, promp- ting the grounding of the shuttle fleet. A mission scheduled for September has now been put back to next March. More than $1bn worth of damage by Katrina to Nasa facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi could push the launch date back further still.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea