See Inside July 2009

Space Geology: From the Moon to Mars

The only scientist and field geologist ever to visit the moon offers some pointers to those who will one day visit Mars

Photoillustration by Scientific American; Courtesy of NASA (moon and Mars)

Forty years ago this month the lunar surface reverberated with life for the first time. Forty years from now will Mars, too, come alive? President Barack Obama has affirmed the broad goals for human spaceflight that his predecessor put forward in 2004: retire the shuttle in 2010, develop a replacement line of rockets (named Ares), return to the moon by 2020, and go to Mars, perhaps in the mid-2030s [see “To the Moon and Beyond,” by Charles Dingell, William A. Johns and Julie Kramer White; Scientific American, October 2007]. The program is known as Constellation.

For now, policy makers are worried less about Mars than about the downtime between the last shuttle launch and first Ares flight, during which the U.S. will depend on Russia or private companies to launch its astronauts into orbit. What was originally supposed to be a two-year gap has widened to six, and in May the Obama administration announced that former aerospace executive Norman Augustine will lead a review of the program to see how it might get back on track.

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