New Mexicans have the rare chance to touch a piece of a moon rock in January at NASA’s Driven to Explore traveling exhibit. Driven to Explore offers a look at America’s program to return humans to the moon and travel beyond.

The exhibit will be located at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. on Wednesday, Jan. 20 through Thursday, Jan. 21. The exhibit will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. MST, daily.

The centerpiece of Driven to Explore is the opportunity to touch a lunar rock sample picked up on the moon and brought to Earth by the astronauts of Apollo 17 in 1972, America’s last human mission to the moon. The nearly 4-billion-year-old rock is one of only seven lunar samples in the world made available for the public to touch.

Driven to Explore allows visitors to see models of the new Constellation Program’s Ares rockets and Orion crew exploration vehicle that NASA is developing, and to learn how and why America will return to the moon. The exhibit also details the accomplishments of the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

NASA’s flight test of the crew escape system being developed for future rockets is scheduled to be conducted at the Orion Abort Flight Test Launch Complex at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, N.M. in spring 2010. Pad Abort 1 is the first of several flight tests that will provide information to help NASA build a better system to protect the crew during launch. The system will provide a safe escape mechanism for astronauts in the Orion crew module atop the rocket should there be a problem on the launch pad, or in the early stage of the climb to orbit.

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