NASA aims at moon again.
A LUNAR science institute is to be established in the US as astronauts plan to return to the moon by 2020, Nasa said today.
The Nasa Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) will lead teams across America working on the space agency's research activities ahead of future missions.
The institution's work is set to begin in March next year and will be managed from Nasa's Ames Research Centre in Moffet Field, California.
Alan Stern, associate administrator for Nasa's Science Mission Directorate, said: "The science to be done at the moon and from the moon are of high value.
"NLSI will help us coordinate and expand a number of in-depth research efforts in lunar science and other fields that can benefit from human and robotic missions that are part of Nasa's exploration plans."
Nasa will select four or five teams for grants of one to two million dollars (pounds 500,000 to pounds 1m) each for three years, with renewals of up to five years.
By late 2008, about 50 researchers around the US could be working under NLSI's banner. This could double to 100 by 2010.
The space agency also announced further details of its efforts to enable astronauts to explore the moon.
Rick Gilbrech, associate administrator for Exploration Systems at Nasa, said: "Nasa's Constellation Programme is making real progress toward sending astronauts to the moon.
"Work on our new fleet of rockets and spacecraft, Ares I and Orion, is already well under way.
"With these new assignments, Nasa will launch the next phase of its exploration strategy - landing crews and cargo on the surface of the moon."
The first crewed flight of the Orion spacecraft, aboard an Ares I rocket, is scheduled for no later than 2015.
Nasa plans to return to the moon by 2020, where the scientists hope to set up a lunar outpost to prepare for human exploration further into the solar system.