Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech committing the country to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, the state and NASA announced a new partnership aimed at involving Hawaii in the next phase of the agency’s manned and unmanned exploration of the moon and deep space.
NASA would lend its expertise to Hawaii and any potential partners — government, academic or private-sector — in developing a prototype and in the testing of new technology to be used for an International Lunar Research Park, a project envisioned as a multinational base on the moon’s surface from which future space research could be performed.
The research park would be developed at the University of Hawaii-Hilo with test sites at higher elevations of Hawaii Island, possibly within Volcanoes National Park, where the unusual terrain simulates lunar conditions.
In announcing the partnership, Gov. Neil Abercrombie noted Wednesday the Big Island’s history with NASA, having served as a training site for astronauts on the original Apollo moon-landing missions.
"These very islands of Hawaii continue to provide a basis for training that’s unparalleled anywhere else in the rest of our planet, Abercrombie said.
NASA will not help pay for the building of the research park.
Abercrombie said he did not immediately know what the state’s investment would be, but that "it’ll be substantial."
"All that’s in the process of being planned right now," he added. "We’ll be going both to the Congress, and obviously to the Legislature as these things manifest themselves, on the practicality of construction and jobs associated with it."
The state would provide the prototype test environment and infrastructure for the prototype lunar park facilities and examine the potential to develop innovative space-related technologies for educational, industry and government use, officials said. NASA, through the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will evaluate new concepts and models for conducting space exploration.
The state’s Office of Aerospace Development will be the lead state agency for the project.
Rebecca Keiser, NASA’s associate deputy administrator, said the agreement allows the state to begin searching for partners in developing the prototype.
"It really will be up to Hawaii to determine the size of it, who they want the partners to be, what kind of additional research you want," said Keiser, who signed the two-year agreement with Abercrombie Wednesday at a news conference in his office. "We’ll be helping along the way in providing assistance."
Development of the International Lunar Research Park is envisioned as a three-phase process, with international government and private-sector cooperation, but no start date has been set.
Keiser said the prototype UH-Hilo park would get started with research as early as next year with initial testing of robotics that could be remotely controlled and used in testing rock and soil samples.
"The test is going to occur in 2012," Keiser said. "The planning is going to lead up to that."
Lawmakers applauded the announcement.
Sen. Will Espero, a supporter of establishing space research and tourism facilities in Hawaii, said the Legislature will have to show its support of the project, likely through building and facility upgrades at UH-Hilo.
"When it comes to looking at diversifying our economy, this is the type of industry that we want," said Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach). "If you look at this as an extension of what we’ve done with the telescopes on Mauna Kea, this is all about space exploration and aerospace initiative."
Other initiatives could include tax credits and other incentives to attract aerospace-related industries to Hawaii as potential partners.
"What we’re going to do is build a lunar habitat here — (prototype) it here — of what it would look like on the moon," Espero said. "You’re going to need businesses that are involved in materials, design, water, food growth, energy.
"Whatever you can think of, we want to (prototype) it here on the Big Island."