From 2005 March

GREENBELT, Md. - Before the end of spring, NASA plans to select the sequence of robotic orbiters and landers it will send to the moon to pave the way for astronauts to return by 2020.

The Robotic Lunar Exploration Program (RLEP) will mark the first spacecraft launches directly supporting NASA's new vision for space exploration. Starting with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in 2008, NASA expects to launch roughly one robotic lunar mission each year, all to be managed by Goddard Space Flight Center here.

Drawing on feedback from inside and outside NASA, RLEP officials have developed a list of 18 possible lunar missions that could follow LRO, according to James Watzin, Goddard's RLEP program manager.

"We're working towards getting a decision here in the next month or so on a baseline architecture for the program, and that'll be the mission pathway that we use for those [missions] beyond the LRO," Watzin said during a presentation at the 43rd annual Goddard Memorial Symposium here March 29.

The RLEP plan will be "very dynamic and flexible," Watzin said, consisting of "frequent missions of relatively modest scope so that we can be reactive to the needs of ... exploration as they come about."

Future surface missions could include "biosentinels" that would help scientists learn about the possible long-term physical effects of radiation on the lunar surface, Watzin said.

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Topics of Interest

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NASA's Ames Research Center in California is considering two mission architectures for the first lander mission in the upcoming Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, according to RLEP Program Architect...

SCOUTING THE MOON Pure science is taking a backseat to long-term exploration goals as NASA prepares to send robotic scouts to the Moon. Still, a rich scientific haul will be inevitable, even without...

NASA's newly unveiled exploration architecture could allow for crews of astronauts to remain on the lunar surface up to six months at a time, should such stays be deemed necessary, according to...

NASA's upcoming robotic mission to the Moon will set some basic signposts for human exploration there far into the future, while giving Earthbound scientists a much better view of the distant past.