It’s about damn time:
Sept. 19, 2005, New York–With a plan reminiscent of the Apollo program, NASA is currently unveiling its architecture for a return to the moon by 2018. The plan calls for a series of new spaceships that borrow their designs from Apollo and their propulsion from the Space Shuttle.
For human flight, NASA plans on building a blunt-bodied Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV. By appearances, the CEV design is virtually identical to the Command Module from the Apollo mission — it will hold up to six astronauts (three for ISS missions, four on a trip to the moon and six for Mars) and will return to earth under parachute, greatly simplifying reentry. It will launch on top of a borrowed solid rocket booster and a main engine from the Space Shuttle, and it’s in-line launch stack design avoids the launch debris problems that plague NASA’s current manned spacecraft. (see images)
The CEV can also be flown robotically to ferry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) or to stage supplies and equipment in Earth orbit, which allows the agency to perform routine launches without endangering a human crew.
But to get to the moon, astronauts will need much more equipment than the CEV launch stack can carry. For this, NASA’s plan calls for a second, nominally unmanned heavy-lift rocket powered by five shuttle main engines and two solid rocket boosters. The vehicle will be able to carry 106 metric tons into low earth orbit, and carry an earth departure rocket booster for a lunar mission. The CEV and the lunar rocket will mate in low earth orbit.