NASA has announced that seven research teams will join forces to become the new Lunar Science Institute, to extend and supplement existing NASA lunar science efforts. Each of the teams will remain at their home institutes, and will participate in LSI virtually (much like the NASA Astrobiology Institute, on which this new facility is based). The home base will be the Ames Research Center in California.
You can read about the seven participating teams (including three from Boulder, w00t!) on the official press release. It covers a lot of scientific
ground terrain for lunar studies.
This is pretty cool news. One of the biggest bones of contention amongst scientists when it comes to NASA is the support NASA gives for pure science. This came to a head a couple of years back when NASA made noises that going to the Moon would be done for exploration and not scientific reasons, saying in fact that all they needed to get back to the Moon was "a good map".
When I first heard that, I laughed, but it was a bitter one: at the time, I thought that NASA was going back to the Moon for all the wrong reasons. It seemed that they were doing it only because they needed some big new shiny thing to do. I wanted for us to go back to the Moon so that we could explore it, learn about it, and learn how to settle and eventually colonize a new world. If you want to go to Mars, you'd better learn at the Moon first. It has many of the same issues, but it's a whole lot closer.
And you cannot avoid science during exploration. Exploration without science is not much more than planting a flag and coming back. We've done that already, and it's not sustainable unless there is an attitude change in the way you are attacking the issue. If you want to go to the Moon and stay there, then you'd better do some scientific learning, or the first good solar flare will turn your astronauts into Toxic Avengers.
In fact, come to think of it... we may need to change the use of the word "astronaut" itself. To me, that's someone who goes into space for a short time, but the Moon is an actual destination, and eventually we'll be going back to stay. But that's a discussion for another time.
The point here is that the creation of the Lunar Science Institute is A Good Thing. It's also a good sign, since it means NASA is taking the science of the Moon seriously. Because if and when we go back, we'll need a hell of a lot more than just a good map.