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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004


photo: LLRV
Dryden will seek roles in proposed new missions to take the United States back to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars. Pictured here is the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, flight tested at Dryden during the 1960s. NASA Photo

Back to the Moon

By Sarah Merlin
X-Press Assistant Editor

In the wake of announcements that NASA would undertake new initiatives aimed at returning to the Moon and sending a man to Mars, Center Director Kevin Petersen hosted a Jan. 16 Town Hall meeting to discuss the news with employees.

President Bush's announcement "really sets the stage for the next two decades," Petersen said. "NASA will pursue this vision as its highest priority."

What the new landscape will mean for Dryden is a subject currently being deliberated by the Center leadership. Petersen cautioned against expectations of radical change in the immediate future and encouraged flexibility.

"This...isn't going to happen overnight," he told employees, saying that he expected there would be a gradual realignment of roles and priorities at the Center during the next one to one and a half years. "With this new vision, everyone has to adapt a little." But Petersen expressed confidence that Dryden would play an important role in the Agency's newly recast future.

"I think there will be many opportunities to get in on the (developing technologies), particularly the flight testing of (them)," he said, citing the testing of landing systems and parachutes as two areas in which Dryden's capabilities could be useful.

Petersen also told the assembled staff that aeronautics and Earth science - two of Dryden's primary areas of emphasis - remain important elements of NASA's overall mission, and that the Agency leadership recognized the critical need for both research areas to continue.

A new Office of Aeronautics, he said, was created as a result of the Bush initiative, replacing the Office of Aerospace Research. The new office will be headed by NASA Associate Administrator J. Victor Lebacqz, and was created as a separate enterprise "to reflect NASA's commitment to aviation research and aeronautics technologies for the nation's civil and defense interests."

Petersen also said that activity previously associated with development of an Orbital Space Plane (OSP) will be redirected toward development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). The CEV will facilitate travel beyond low Earth orbit and will be the first new American-built human space flight vehicle in more than twenty years.

The proposed initiative will mean an increase in NASA's budget of five percent over the next three years, and of about two percent (to offset inflation) annually thereafter, Petersen said. The increase represented a net advantage, he pointed out, insomuch as without the Bush proposals, the Agency was due for a likely budget reduction beginning with fiscal year 2005.

NASA's annual budget is currently about .7 percent of the total federal budget, representing an annual cost per taxpayer equivalent to one month's cable television charges, a family trip to the movies, or about 15 cents per day.

Dryden historian Peter Merlin contributed to this article.

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