To the moon & beyond for research center on Big Island - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

To the moon & beyond for research center on Big Island

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaii's voyaging tradition continues on the Big Island, but this time, the trip isn't by sea. It's to the moon and beyond.

The PISCES Space Center is putting Hawaii, not only on the global map, but a universal one, too.

It's one giant step for mankind - and potentially, Hawaii.

The state is providing $2.3 million to expand aerospace technology testing at the PISCES research facility. The hope is to someday help man land back on the moon, Mars, and even an asteroid.

PISCES new executive director, Rob Kelso, says, "It's just a couple of years before we re-engage, for the first time in 40 years, on the surface of the moon, and Hawaii can offer unique capabilities that aren't available anywhere else to help them do that."

Hawaii has the best terrain in the world - unique volcanic soil - that duplicates lunar and Martian surfaces. PISCES, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, is a collaboration of countries, academia, and the private sector, and while settlement on the moon could still be 15 or 20 years away, PISCES will simulate life there. China, Japan, India, Russia, and the European space agency all have plans to land on the moon within a few years.

Kelso continues, "So, what we want to do, since they're going, we want to help them and enable them by bringing robotic systems here to test prior to them going to these harsh environments."

Robotic systems, like an excavator from the University of Alabama, could potentially be used to make air and water for survival on another planet.

"It's really neat to see how we fit in in the process of developing human interactions with other planets, and how we're going to go live and move to other planets and set up bases and explore the universe," explains Adam Melton, the university's team leader on the project.

Teams from around the world that build these robotic rovers are entering the Google Lunar X-Prize competition. The first privately-funded team to send a robot to the moon will receive a whopping $30 million grand prize.

Kelso, the new executive director, is a retired shuttle flight director for NASA who oversaw 25 space missions in the 80's and 90's.

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