Wednesday, December 06, 2006

NASA plans to build permanent moon base by 2024

The space agency Nasa yesterday unveiled plans to build a permanent base on the moon within 20 years that will allow humans to live there. The base will be used as a launching site for missions to Mars, as well as for analysis of the Earth from space.

"We're going for a base on the moon," said Scott Horowitz, Nasa associate administrator for exploration, at a press briefing in which he detailed plans for the first permanent human presence on an extraterrestrial body, 50 years after Apollo astronauts walked on the moon.

Nasa's announcement is the latest step in the space agency's plans to fulfil President George Bush's challenge to explore space. In 2004 he called for a return to the moon, followed by Mars expeditions. Last year Nasa gave details of the spacecraft it plans to use in the missions. The Orion exploration vehicle, shaped like the Apollo space capsules last used in 1972 but three times larger, will replace the space shuttle, while the two new Ares I rockets will blast the astronauts and equipment separately into space.

The exact design of the base has not yet been mapped out but Nasa outlined scientific goals for the moon missions. The missions will, among other things, measure cosmic rays, hunt for exotic subatomic particles in space and look for asteroids on a collision course with Earth. A moon base could also be used as a platform for monitoring the Earth's oceans and ice caps.

Nasa officials said that the return to the moon would begin with robotic reconnaissance trips that would look for potential landing sites and areas with good natural resources.

By 2020 four-person crews will make week-long trips while power supplies, rovers and living quarters are built on the lunar surface. Once the base is completed in the mid-2020s astronauts will stay for up to six months at a time to prepare for longer journeys to Mars. By the end of the decade pressurised roving vehicles could take people on long exploratory trips across the lunar surface.

The moon's polar regions are Nasa's preferred landing sites because the temperature is moderate and there are longer periods of sunlight - critical for the solar-powered technologies planned by the space agency. Nasa said that nuclear power could eventually be used instead. The poles are also thought to be rich in resources such as hydrogen and ice, which could be used to support life. "It's exciting, we don't know as much about the polar regions," said Shana Dale, Nasa's deputy administrator.

Source: The Guardian

NASA images suggest liquid water present on Mars

Striking images taken by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft suggest the presence of liquid water on the Martian surface, a tantalizing find for scientists wondering if the Red Planet might harbor life.

The orbiting U.S. spacecraft enabled scientists to detect changes in the walls of two craters in the southern hemisphere of Mars apparently caused by the downhill flow of water in the past few years, a team of scientists announced on Wednesday.

Scientists long have wondered whether life ever existed on Mars. Liquid water is an important part of the equation. On Earth, all forms of life require water to survive. Scientists previously established the existence of war on Mars in the form of ice at the poles and water vapor, and pointed to geological features that appear to have been carved by water ages ago.

Kenneth Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, a scientist involved in the research, said there had been a quest for "smoking gun" evidence for liquid water currently on Mars.

"Basically, this is the 'squirting gun' for water on Mars," Edgett told reporters.

The scientists, whose research appears in the journal Science, compared images of the Martian surface taken seven years apart and also found 20 newly formed craters left by impacts from space debris.

They said water seemed to have flowed down two gullies in the past few years, even though liquid water cannot remain long on the planet's frigid, nearly airless surface because it would rapidly freeze or evaporate.

Source: Reuters