December 24th, 2006 03:59 EST
NASA releases global exploration strategy for permanent lunar outpost
Washington -- NASA recorded a stellar month in December, completing the third space shuttle mission of the year and unveiling critical tools -- an exploration strategy and a proposed lunar architecture -- needed to establish a manned base on the moon by 2020.
The mission was a turning point for NASA -- half the construction of the International Space Station now is complete.
After waiting through an afternoon of dynamic weather in Florida December 22, commander Mark Polansky and his crew aboard Discovery (STS-116) rolled onto the runway at sunset, concluding a 13-day, 8.5 million-kilometer mission to the International Space Station with a perfect landing at Kennedy Space Center.
On board were crew members pilot Bill Oefelein, flight engineer Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency (ESA), and mission specialists Robert Curbeam, Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick and ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang.
"The flight team did an extraordinary job today bringing Discovery home," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said at a press briefing in Florida after the launch. "But " we will be critiquing this mission to see what we can learn " and that`s how we have to stay, for an enterprise that is right on the cutting edge of what is possible for human beings to do at all."
Discovery undocked from the station December 19, ending an eight-day stay at the orbital outpost that was the most complex construction mission accomplished since the space station launched in 1998.
The STS-116 crew conducted three spacewalks to install the fifth of six integrated port truss segments and rewire the station`s power system, putting the station`s power system in a permanent setup. A fourth spacewalk was conducted to help retract a troublesome port solar array on the sixth port truss segment.
The STS-116 and Expedition 14 crews worked together to transfer 1,947 kilograms of supplies and equipment that Discovery delivered to the station. They also transferred 1,689 kilograms of cargo that returned to Earth with Discovery.
Astronaut Sunita Williams, who arrived at the station with STS-116, replaced ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter on the space station`s Expedition 14 crew December 12. Reiter returned to Earth with Discovery.
Williams will be a member of Expedition 14 until Expedition 15 relieves commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin in March 2007.
Williams will finish her six months on the station as a member of Expedition 15, along with commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, a cosmonaut representing the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and flight engineer and Soyuz commander Oleg Kotov.
Two crew members will join Expedition 15 later in 2007. Flight engineer Clayton Anderson will launch to the station aboard Endeavour (STS-118) and flight engineer Daniel Tani will launch aboard Atlantis (STS-120).
Spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi will spend a week at the space station in March. Simonyi was born in Hungary, studied mathematics and computer science in the United States and runs his own software engineering firm. He is convinced that someday people will travel and live comfortably in space.
NASA is working today to make that a reality, beginning with a permanent solar-powered outpost on the moon, where people can use the moon`s natural resources to live off the land, prepare for more distant space journeys and conduct scientific investigations.
TO THE MOON AND MARS
On December 4, NASA unveiled the initial elements of the agency`s Global Exploration Strategy and a proposed U.S. lunar architecture, two critical tools for achieving the nation`s vision of returning people to the moon.
"The Global Exploration Strategy saw contributions from over 1,000 people and 14 space agencies," NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said during a briefing at Johnson Space Center in Texas.
NASA started developing the strategy in April, with participation by experts from the Australian, Canadian, Chinese, European, French, German, British, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Russian, South Korean and Ukrainian space agencies, and by nongovernmental organizations and commercial interests.
The strategy lists reasons for embarking on human and robotic lunar exploration, among them having a sustained human presence on the moon, promoting international collaboration and preparing for human and robotic missions to Mars and elsewhere.
NASA`s lunar architecture focuses on how humans might accomplish the mission of exploring the moon. The Lunar Architecture Team concluded that the best approach is to develop a solar-powered lunar base and locate it near one of the poles.
The base would begin with four-person crews making several seven-day visits to the moon until power supplies, rovers and living quarters are operational. The first mission would begin by 2020. Later, 180-day missions would prepare for journeys to Mars.
More information about NASA`s exploration plans is available at the agency`s Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer