Apollo 2.0: The Next Giant Leap for Man

When men first walked on the moon, half a billion people, one-sixth of the Earth's population, watched in awe.

"And now we have two Americans on the moon," Walter Cronkite said.

For two hours, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the lunar landscape.

"It is not beauty," Aldrin said. "It is magnificent desolation. A magnificent achievement for humanity."

That achievement provided the raw material for research that continues today in this rarely seen NASA lab, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. Behind a steel vault door weighing 18 tons: moon rocks.

They are the building blocks of our solar system, older than rocks on earth, snapshots of how and when planets and moons were formed.

"When they found out this rock was 3.9 billion years, that was a big deal," said NASA's Gary Lofgren.

Since the Apollo days, when this control room came alive, NASA has come a long way. But its mission today is less clear. Is it the moon? Mars? And should humans go at all?

NASA believes the moon is the crucial next step. Its mandate: return people there by 2020.

This time two rockets would launch to carry heavier loads. One carrying astronauts, the other cargo. In low earth orbit, the capsule carrying the astronauts and the lunar lander would dock. After four days of travel, all four astronauts would land on the moon. For a week, they would try to learn whether it's possible to live off the land in space. For instance, the moon's poles may contain ice - a possible source of water, oxygen and hydrogen.

Their space suits attach to the exterior of the lunar rover. From inside, astronauts could step in or out of their suits, reducing moon dust.

Jeff Hanley leads NASA's new system of spacecraft, called Constellation.

"We're trying to do Apollo 2.0," Hanley said.

"We are trying to go anywhere, trying to stay twice as long with twice as many people," Hanley said.

But critics - including the second man on the moon - say NASA must go to places have never gone before.

"A little bit different than Neil and Buzz kicking up dust on the moon. I think we owe them something more than that," Aldrin said.

Ultimately, America has to make hard choices about how much risk to take, and how much we're willing to spend. Just a trip to the moon would cost an estimated $100 billion.

As once again NASA makes the case for space, and the next giant leap for man.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.