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From the Earth to the Moon

During the 1960s and 70s, both the Americans and Soviets moved ahead cautiously with lunar-base concepts. In the U.S., several studies employed surplus Apollo hardware for returning to the Moon. In the Soviet Union, the Zvezda (Star) concept envisaged six crewmen living in small modules.

Ironically, after the first manned lunar landing in 1969, the national leadership for returning to the Moon was missing. The public is often blamed for this fact, but this writer blames it mostly on U.S. politicians. Public interest in space exploration has remnained strong since the 1970s.

In 1989, U.S. President George H.W. Bush showed his space leadership with the Space Exploration Initiative that called for a small lunar base by 2008. But with petty partisan politics in full swing, President Bill Clinton canceled his predecessor's initiative in 1992. (At least Clinton continued Reagan's space-station plans since so much engineering work was already underway.) But a good idea rarely gets repressed for long: Bush's lunar-return vision was revitalized in 2004 by the ex-president's son, President George W. Bush.

Hopefully, President Barak Obama, a Democrat, will continue America's lunar leadership role, a role that inspires all Americans regardless of party affiliation. It looks like we're finally getting back to the Moon-but we're still keeping our fingers crossed.

What's in the Sky: This weekend, you can see what the Apollo 11 astronauts saw on their way back to Earth from the Moon in July 1969: the Summer Triangle. Look for the giant stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. As the sky darkens after dusk, three constellations become apparent. Thanks to J. Kirk Edwards for this week's sky chart.

Louis Varricchio, M.Sc., was a NASA senior science writer. He is a member of the NASA-JPL Solar System Ambassador program.

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