Our steps back to the Moon continue. NASA announced recently that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, the first step in returning to the Moon, has been awarded a launcher contract. Lockheed Martin (what a lot of folks call, tongue-not-so-in-cheek, LockMart) got the contract, and will use an Atlas V 401 rocket. The launch window opens on October 31, 2008. Boo.
In other Moon news, the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, or RLEP, has been renamed to Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program. I actually approve of this. A name gives you a clue about what the thinking behind a program is, and in this case the program to send robotic probes to the Moon, of which LRO is the first, are now part of the precursor of putting people back there. They aren't stand-alone missions like Clementine or the Lunar Prospector were.
I support going back to the Moon, as should be obvious from my posts here. NASA does appear to be doing some shuffling of projects and such in an attempt to make this a reality, but I'm still concerned that with the Shuttle standdown and the phenomenal amount of time and effort spent on the space station, this will get back-burnered, or worse, Congress may defund it. We'll be getting a new President around the time LRO is supposed to launch as well. This launch will inaugurate the return to the Moon. I hope whoever is our next President will consider this to be an adventure on par, or greater, than what our nation achieved with Apollo.
I have a lot more to say about this> it's a complicated issue, and I've seen many people trying to oversimplify it. Stay tuned; as time goes on I'll write more.
Incidentally, Japan has announced that they want a moonbase by 2030. That may not be as odd as it sounds; they do have a space program, and it's not like they're hurting for cash. India, China, Japan... we'd better dang well put some effort into this, or we'll be one of the very few space-faring nations looking up at that great gaudy light in the sky and knowing we aren't there to share in its exploration.