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Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jan 31, 2006 11:35:09 GMT -6
NASA Eyeing Earlier Lunar Landing
ATK Thiokol is preparing to begin work on a more powerful variant of the space shuttle solid-rocket motor it has long produced as part of a streamlined NASA exploration plan that would land astronauts on the Moon in early 2017, a year earlier than previously envisioned.
Thiokol is not yet under contract to design and build the five-segmented solid boosters NASA now plans to use on both its crew and lunar-cargo launchers. NASA announced in December, however, that it had selected the Promontory, Utah-based firm as prime contractor for the Crew Launch Vehicle's first stage. At the time, NASA still was planning to launch Moon- and space station-bound astronauts atop a rocket based on a modified version of the four-segmented booster that Thiokol has produced for the space shuttle for the past two decades.
Although NASA has yet to publicly unveil the details of the revised approach, dubbed "Lunar Sooner," internal documents obtained by Space News show that the agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate has laid out a program that would achieve the first human lunar landing since Apollo by March 2017—a full three years ahead of the 2020 date U.S. President George W. Bush set in announcing the exploration effort 2004. When it unveiled its lunar exploration implementation plan last year, NASA envisioned a 2018 landing date.