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US Moves Step Closer to Manned Moon Mission

The U.S. space agency NASA this week outlined its next big step to returning astronauts to the moon.

The U.S. Space Agency, NASA plans to return to the moon … fulfilling, in part, a vision laid out by President Bush in January 2004.

"We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe to gain a new foothold on the moon, and prepare for a new journey to worlds beyond our own," he said.

Neil Armstrong was the first of 12 astronauts to leave a footprint on the moon.
“It's one one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Astronaut Eugene Cernan was the last man on the moon, more than three decades ago. ''.... in the merry merry month of ... December.'"

That was December 1972….

Astronaut Eugene Cernan says, "I did not really believe I would be sitting here three decades later still being the last man to have left a my footprints on the surface. Ah, Quite frankly, it's a little disappointing."

But U.S. administration officials believe, after a series of unmanned, robotic missions to the moon, the U.S. will return astronauts there by 2020. An optimistic goal, one NASA officials are trying to meet. This week NASA officials in Washington D.C., discussed the first robotic mission scheduled for October 2008.

NASA Assistant Administrator Scott Horowitz says of the plans to return to the moon, "To go back to the moon, …we have to be able to communicate, we have to be able to navigate we need good maps ... the topography of the moon. One of the primary resources that we're looking for at the moon which is what is the hydrogen all about at the polar regions of the moon."

Daniel Andrews is the project manager on the lunar crater observation and sensing satellite, or LCROS.

They plan to excavate a crater on the moon's south pole; a place they believe contains hydrogen and possibly water.

"What we're basically doing, is we're taking the upper stage of the launch vehicle, the one that delivers LRO [Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter] and LCROS [Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite] to the moon and when its finished its mission, which means its now-spent upper stage, its got the mass of a SUV, a good sized SUV, and we send it into the south pole of the moon, and the whole idea is we create a substantial plume, excavate a bunch of material some of which may be water ice and be able to measure that directly as the plume is created, and ah, its a great opportunity to really understand what we have there," he said.

A series of planned robotic missions to the moon between 2008 and 2016 will study and map the lunar surface, paving the way for man's eventual return to the moon.