News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Marshall ready for new challenge in space travel

Excitement around NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center these days is reminiscent of its glory days of the 1960s.

Back then, rocket scientists were developing the mammoth vehicles that would take humans to the moon for the first time. Today, they're working on a new fleet to do it again.

There are three decades of studies, proposals and plans from NASA and presidential commissions about returning to the moon or going to Mars that never became reality. NASA officials think this program is different.

President Bush set dates for ending the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs and ordered NASA to have a shuttle replacement by 2014, and to get back to the moon by 2020.

Perhaps most importantly, he ordered the agency to do it without a large budget increase.

To make that happen, NASA is borrowing boosters from the Shuttle program, rocket engines and crew capsules from the 1960's era Saturn moon rockets, other propulsion hardware from more recent technologically overambitious spaceship projects.

The new vehicles are distinctly retro, utilitarian and plain. On the other hand, they represent no great technological leaps. Instead of spending years buried in paper studies, corrosive debate and unproductive bureaucratic sniping, the engineers of Marshall and NASA's other field centers are already into firing rocket engines, testing models in wind tunnels, plotting flight plans on computers and much more.

The Marshall center is leading much of the work so far. Of the more than 600 government workers involved, more than 500 are at Marshall. Their mission is as extraordinary as the Apollo program of the 1960s. The challenges are as daunting. The prospects for an Alabama-based success are also as exciting. We hope this new NASA rocket team meets with much success.

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