- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA and its Russian counterpart worked on two minor problems yesterday before starting the countdown for Thursday night’s launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on a mission to rewire the International Space Station.

Russian flight controllers boosted the space station’s orbit by firing the engine on a supply vehicle docked to the space lab for 23 minutes. An effort to do that was aborted last week after only three minutes because of a software problem. The boost will help Discovery dock with the space lab on the third day of the flight.

“It was a flawless firing,” NASA spokeswoman Lynnette Madison said.

Also yesterday, the space agency said it will go to the moon with a ship that looks a lot like a 1960s Apollo capsule, but it will do something dramatically different this time: Stay there.

Releasing the agency’s bold plan for a return to the moon, NASA said it will establish an international base camp on one of the moon’s poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts again land there. It is a sweeping departure from the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and ‘70s and represents a new phase of space exploration after space shuttles are retired in 2010.

NASA chose a “lunar outpost” over the short expeditions of the ‘60s. Apollo flights landed in the middle area of the moon, but NASA decided to go to the moon’s poles because they are best for longer-term settlements. And this time NASA is welcoming other nations on its journey.

The more likely of the two lunar destinations is the moon’s south pole because it is sunlit for three-quarters of the time. That offers a better locale for solar power, plus the site has possible resources to mine nearby, said associate deputy administrator Doug Cooke.

“This is not your father’s Apollo,” said John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “I think it’s the only way to sustain something like this over decades. This is not a flag-and-footprints. This is the idea of starting an outward movement that includes long stays on the moon.”

To get to the moon, NASA will use two vehicles — the Orion exploration vehicle and an attached all-purpose lunar lander that could touch down anywhere and be the beginnings of a base camp, said exploration chief Scott Horowitz, likening the lander to a pickup truck.

“You can put whatever you want in the back. You can take it to wherever you want. So you can deliver cargo, crew, do it robotically, do it with humans on board. These are the types of things we’re looking for in this system,” Mr. Horowitz said at a press conference in Houston.

The estimated time frame for NASA’s lunar plans are:

• 2009 — a first test of one of the lunar spaceships.

• 2014 — the first manned test flight of the Orion crew exploration vehicle, but no moon landing.

• 2020 — the first flight of the four-astronaut crew to the moon.

For four years, the lunar base won’t be built up enough for long visits, so astronauts will only spend a week at a time. But after that, NASA envisions people living on the moon for six-month stints.

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