Yesterday NASA officially unveiled its plans for returning to the Moon. They are aiming for a first test of the new lunar spaceship in 2009. The Orion crew exploration vehicle should be ready for testing in 2014 and the first flight to the Moon is scheduled for 2020. For the next four years there will regular lunar flights, allowing astronauts to spend a week at a time on the Moon’s surface. By 2024 they hope to have a permanent base on the Moon with astronauts doing six-month tours of duty.
The cost of the first flight is estimated to be in excess of $100 billion, with analysts throwing around figures of $500–800 billion for the cost of establishing a permanent base. And where will the money come from? NASA seems to think that it can come out of their existing budget, which probably means that their expenditure on doing real science will be decimated.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the press release sounds as if NASA has been taken over by management consultants, e.g. ‘This strategy will enable interested nations to leverage their capabilities and financial and technical contributions, making optimum use of globally available knowledge and resources to help energize a coordinated effort that will propel us into this new age of discovery and exploration.’