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NASA's "Future Forum" Highlights Ohio's Contributions

NASA celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The space agency is visiting seven U.S. cities to commemorate its past and to promote its role in the future.

Returning to the moon by 2020 is one of the agency's goals.

At an event hosted Thursday at COSI [co-sigh] in Columbus, the agency's deputy administrator says NASA has some very ambitious plans.

First there was the Mercury program, then Gemini, then finally the Apollo program which landed men on the moon. Those missions were followed by the reusable space shuttle. With the shuttle's imminent retirement, NASA has a new mission in the works called Constellation. At COSI, the agency's deputy administrator Shana Dale said the plan includes building living quarters on the moon. But astronauts would live away from the equator where they landed some 39 years ago.

"...possibly the polar regions that may have water ice," Dale says. "Those are areas that allow much more sun for solar energy because they're always exposed to the sun. Developing the habitat, developing the advanced rovers for humans, developing the capability to mine resources from the lunar soil - all the things that are going to be essential as we move further out into the solar system."

The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will continue to play an important role in the endeavor, as NASA reaches beyond the moon to Mars.

"Ohio has NASA's Glenn Research Center," Dale says. "It's a driver of technological innovation. It has a significant role not only in aeronautics research but also in the Constellation program; the program that's going to take us to Mars and then beyond."

Dale says the vehicle used for Constellation flights will look much like the Apollo rockets of the 1970's. The Glenn Center will oversee developing parts of the capsule that will transport as many as 6 astronauts at a time.

"The physics of the capsule design, they had it right during the Apollo days," she says.

Dale could not say how much Constellation will cost. She says NASA works within a fixed Congressional budget which increases only incrementally. With the shuttles' retirement in 2010, money will be diverted to Constellation, as will funding from the international space station at the appropriate time.