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Experts Say Colony On Moon Possible Within 20 Years

September 23, 1986

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) _ A partnership between government and industry could establish a colony on the moon within 20 years, and the project could rejuvenate the space program, a NASA official says.

If the United States is to maintain a strong civil space program it needs a goal on which people can focus their energy, Michael B. Duke, chief of the space agency’s Solar System Exploration Division, told a group of 100 scientists Monday.

Speaking at the start of a three-day conference on ″Lunar Development and Magnetic Levitation Systems,″ Duke said scientists have mastered space travel and can envision ways to use their knowledge, but they need a mandate from both politicians and private companies willing to invest.

″A lunar base will be important to us because it opens the possibility of utilizing its material and energy resources for bettering economies on Earth, physically expanding the space frontier, and providing new opportunities for human endeavor,″ Duke said.

″The lunar base ... can return profits to wise investors, can maintain the United States’ world technological leadership, and can capture the attention of the younger generation,″ he said.

Magnetic levitation, or maglev, technology also being discussed during the conference is considered a potential way to carry lunar colonists around their frontier and to launch payloads from the moon, he said.

Such technology uses a magnetic field to suspend rail cars fractions of an inch above a track for easier propulsion. In Birmingham, England, the technology has been put into commercial use with a high-speed vehicle carrying passengers from a rail station to an airport.

NASA cannot establish a lunar colony without the expertise of other scientists and the economic support of private industry lured by potential profits in such areas as mining on the moon, said Wendell Mendell, a NASA planetary scientist.

Since the Challenger explosion killed seven astronauts Jan. 28, NASA has come under fire for not having a well-defined goal to guide its work, he said in an interview. A lunar colony will fill that void, he said.

Mendell added that he thinks U.S. citizens would readily accept a decision by the government to shoot for a manned station on the moon. The space shuttle program ″has made the ordinary public believe people can work in space the way they work here,″ he said.

The symposium is sponsored by the Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia and American Mag-Lev Inc., a Pitman-based company.

Among the speakers on the conference agenda are science fiction writer Isaac Asimov; scientists from seven nations; and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, organizers said.

Organizers hoped to establish a Lunar Development Council to represent developers, scientists, engineers, government officials and others interested in the peaceful use of the moon, said G. Merrill Andrus, chairman of the symposium.

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