Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NASA to form Lunar Science Institute

According to NASAwatch, Alan Stern announced at the DPS (Division for Planetary Sciences) meeting yesterday that NASA plans to create a NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) patterned on the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

The initial selection would be of 4 to 5 lead teams at a cost of $1-2 million each, and like the NAI, the NSLI would be managed by NASA Ames Research Center.

This is pretty exciting news, and in conjunction with the new LASER (Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research) R&A program and last year's LSSO (Lunar Sortie Science Opportunities) program, the participating scientist program for LRO, not to mention an increase in lunar-related grants through several of NASA's other R&A lines (PGG, Cosmochem, PIDDP), the lunar community is sitting pretty good right now.

Which is important, and well timed, because a large percentage of the lunar community hail from the Apollo era, and frankly are approaching, or have already reached, retirement age. By the time we get back to the Moon in (theoretically) 2018, they will be gone and we will be in desperate need of a few good lunar scientists. Now, scientists don't just sprout out of nowhere, it takes a good 10 years of training (grad school plus postdocs) to produce a decent scientist, so by priming the system now with a small investment in R&A, NASA is actually showing some forethought and is right on schedule to maintain a viable lunar community for the next era of exploration. Way to go NASA (or, rather, Alan Stern), it's nice to see someone thinking beyond the next election cycle.

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