Return to the Moon

StarDate: July 24, 2009

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MISSION CONTROL: Apollo 11 should be on main chutes now....The flight of Apollo 11 is over, the men are on the ocean.

The first lunar-landing mission ended 40 years ago today. Five more followed it -- the last in 1972. NASA plans to send new expeditions to the Moon in about a decade. But there's no guarantee. Changes in the economy and political priorities could push those plans back by years, or even scuttle them entirely.

In the meantime, several countries are pursuing robotic missions to the Moon. And as was the case with the explorations of the 1960s and '70s, they're doing so for a mixture of reasons -- from science to international prestige.

The United States is planning a series of missions to pave the way for long-term human exploration and settlement. These missions will photograph possible landing sites, map the Moon's gravity, and look for deposits of water ice at the Moon's poles. Earlier missions found evidence of ice, which could provide drinking water and rocket fuel for future lunar bases.

Russia is planning a Moon mission, too -- its first since the 1970s. It will also look for ice, by firing probes into the lunar surface.

India, Japan, and Europe are planning lunar missions, too. And so is China, which launched its first astronauts into space a few years ago. Like the U.S., China has shown interest in sending people back to the Moon -- a half-century after astronauts first explored our satellite world.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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