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The cost of Project Apollo, which ended in the early 1970s, was $25.4 Billion (US). Now NASA says it can do it again, and better, for $104 Billion (US).

Going back to the moon has long been talked about as a jumping off point for future manned Mars missions, but now that talk is condensing into a plan. That plan is still somewhat basic, but it outlines a new space vehicle, new moon lander, and the goal to put someone on the Lunar surface in the year 2018.

Some of the details:
New, reusable, and yet to be designed capsules that will house the crew for the trip. By placing the capsule on the top of the launch vehicle, they avoid problems like that what occurred with Challenger. Implementation will allow for the capsule to return to Earth, separate from the engine module, and use a system of parachutes and retrorockets to land in California. The engine module will follow near the same trajectory, but without the landing system, and splash down in the Pacific.

The CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) will replace the LEM from Project Apollo. Using all of the lessons learned by its predecessor, it’s a better, tweaked out, bigger brother to its predecessor. It will double the number of personnel on each landing—meaning 4. It can be reused 10 times, is equipped with solar panels, and can use liquid Methane in the engines—not that Methane makes for great fuel, but it is in abundance in the atmosphere of Mars, so might as well get some good out of it. All that, and the lander can keep the crew on the alien surface for more than a week before taking them back home again.

With a planned minimum of 2 Lunar launches per year, this equipment will get plenty of use and testing, but that’s the biggest part of the plan … the moon is just a stepping stone after all. It’s design is meant to be safer than either the space shuttles or Apollo vehicles, and over-engineered for the task.

One shortcoming in the plan, however, is PR. In the 1960s the country was excited to get to the moon. It was a golden fleece, and there was an ambient glory in the quest. Maybe now we lack a competitor to make the passions flare. Maybe we’re all so wrapped up in earning our daily bread that we can’t look up at the moon anymore and wonder when we’ll get our own chance to get up there, and the work it would take.

RedNova article on the CEV
Yahoo! article on the launcher