Private partners to help NASA put science experiments on moon, Mars

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- The idea of putting a man on the moon was a revolutionary proposal in 1961-- that ambitious goal was achieved in 1969. The last person to go to the moon was 46 years ago. Now, NASA has embarked on a new initiative with private industry to put people back on the moon, and on Mars. But it will start with unmanned landings with experiments on board.

The company behind the lander that successfully touched down this week on Mars is going to use its four decades of expertise in designing and building spacecraft to help NASA deliver commercial payloads to the moon and Mars.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is one of nine companies NASA has selected as partners. The director of NASA Ames Research Center says this will allow its scientists, along with those in academia and private industry, to put research experiments on the moon and on Mars.

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"The geology on the moon can tell us about the Earth itself," said Dr. Eugene Tu. "Mars, of course, we believe had the possibility of liquid water in the past, and so learning about Mars would also teach us about Earth's past as well as its future."

Payloads could be heading to the moon within a year. Lockheed Martin says the success of its Mars InSight lander will help to accelerate the process.

"Our concept for the lander that will go to the moon is very much a similar spacecraft, a little bit of differences between Mars and the moon, but for the reality, it's a very similar lander, so we've got a lot of designs already figured out," said Gary Napier, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado.

This initiative could also spawn demand for expertise in disciplines beyond technology.

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"Our plan is to return to the moon but in a sustainable way," said Dr. Tu. "That means staying there for a long time if not permanently. In order to do that, you need much more than the engineer and the science, you need what type of society implications are there, what type of legal frameworks you need, the business aspects of it, so it really brings together a broad spectrum of domains."

To put things in perspective, the last time we had a human on the moon was in 1972, but we may have somebody back on the moon by the late 20's and on Mars by the late 30's.

Watch the full interview with NASA Ames director Dr. Eugene Tu below:
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Full interview with NASA Ames director Eugene Tu.

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