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Predicting aviation news in 2008

NBC News' Tom Costello looks ahead at the issues expected to shape the airline and aviation industry in 2008.
/ Source: NBC News

WASHINGTON — From battling airport delays to water landings for future moon missions, what to watch in 2008.

Fighting delays
The aviation headlines in 2008 are going to center around getting a handle on the chronic delays that affected nearly 30 percent of all commercial flights over the summer months.

Strikingly, three-quarters of all delays nation-wide are linked to problems in New York's airspace. JFK Airport in particular struggles to handle hundreds of departures and hundreds of arrivals every day. The FAA is considering auctioning off “slot times” to airlines, but the airlines and the NY/NJ Port Authority opposes that solution. If the FAA imposes those slots, expect a court challenge.

NASA ramps up lunar exploration
NASA will also be full of interesting stories in 2008 as the space agency rushes to finish the space station and ramps up its lunar exploration preparations. In December, NASA engineers announced they are now leaning towards a water landing when future moon missions return to earth, as astronauts returned during the Mercury and Apollo missions.

Water landings for future moon missions?
NASA had hoped the next generation of space capsule – the Orion – could return to earth by landing on solid ground.

However, studies thus far indicate that would mean carrying an extra 1,500 pounds of weight in parachutes to the moon and back.

A water landing would require fewer parachutes and less weight. As with Apollo, recovery ships would be pre-positioned off the coast of California to pick up the returning astronauts.

Two separate launch vehicles
For missions to the moon, NASA will use two separate launch vehicles, each derived from a mixture of systems with heritage rooted in Apollo, space shuttle and commercial launch vehicle technology.

An Ares V cargo launch vehicle will launch before the crew vehicle, delivering to low-Earth orbit the Earth departure stage and the lunar module that will carry explorers on the last leg of the journey to the moon's surface.

Then Orion will dock with the lunar module in Earth orbit, and the Earth departure stage will propel both on their journey to the moon.

The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle will be larger than the Apollo command module; able to accommodate four crew members on missions to the moon, and six on missions to the International Space Station or Mars-bound spacecraft.

Once in lunar orbit, all four astronauts will use the lunar landing craft to travel to the moon's surface, while the Orion spacecraft stays in lunar orbit. Once the astronauts' lunar mission is complete, they will return to the orbiting Orion vehicle using a lunar ascent module. The crew will use the service module main engine to break out of lunar orbit and head to Earth.

Tom Costello is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C. Click here to see how well Tom's predictions for 2007 worked out.