NASA Unveils Strategy for Return to the Moon

HOUSTON, Texas - NASA has decidedto pursue a base on the Moon. The space agency rolled out today a strategy andrationale for robotic and human exploration of the Moon--determining that alunar outpost is the best approach to achieve a sustained, human presence onthe Moon.

Thebase would be built in incremental steps, starting with four-person crewsmaking several seven-day visits. The first mission would begin by 2020, withthe base growing over time, beefed up with more power, mobility rovers andliving quarters.

TheMoon base would eventually support 180-day lunar stays, a stretch of time seenas the best avenue to establish a permanent presence there, as well as preparefor future human exploration of Mars.

Hereat the NASA Johnson Space Center, space agencyplanners detailed a global exploration strategy, outlining the themes andobjectives of 21st century lunar exploration and the hardware needed to regaina foothold on the Moon.

NASA'slunar plan also encourages participation by other nations, as well asnon-governmental organizations and commercial groups.

Location, location, location

"We'regoing to go after a lunar base," said Scott Horowitz, NASA associateadministrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. The lunar basewill be the central theme in NASA's going back to the Moon effort, he said, inpreparation to go to Mars and beyond.

Asto where on the Moon such a post might be positioned--like real estate here onEarth--it's location, location, location.

"Whatwe're looking at are polar locations...both the north pole and south pole," saidNASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale. Picking between the two poles will bedone once NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter begins surveying the Moon after itslaunch in October 2008.

Oneparticular area that's already receiving high marks by NASA's lunar architectureteam is at the South Pole--a spot on the rim of Shackleton Crater that's almostpermanently sunlit.

"It'salso adjacent to a permanently dark region in which there are potentiallyvolatiles that we can extract and use," said NASA's Doug Cooke, DeputyAssociate Administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

Sphere of economic value

Akey technology yet to be defined is a lunar lander--hardware that can be used inpiloted or unpiloted mode to develop a capability on the Moon more rapidly."The more you can land the better it is," Cooke added.

Thelander will be designed to touchdown anywhere on the Moon...likened to a lunar pickuptruck, Horowitz said.

"Thedoor is wide open in terms of participation by internationals," Dale noted, andthat includes providing power, habitats, mobility on the lunar surface, as wellas technology to use the resources on the Moon to life off the land.

Dalesaid that 2007 will feature "extensive dialogue with other countries" about theways in which they want to participate in exploration activities. "I wouldn'tsee it evolving as the same way as the International Space Station," she told SPACE.com.

NASA'slunar strategy is evolving from dialogue that has already taken place with 13other space agencies, Dale explained. The framework for moving forward withother nations will be put in place next year, she said.

AMoon outpost would yield tangible science benefits, as well as enlarge thesphere of economic activity beyond low Earth orbit, Horowitz suggested.

International participation

Therole of international cooperation in bringing the vision into sharper focus isalso being advanced by NASA chief, Mike Griffin.

Forexample, on December 1, Griffin spoke to the British Royal Society in London, England and pointed to theneed for navigation infrastructure on the Moon for future explorers andscientists.

Griffin spotlighted thescheduled launch in 2008 of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter with its laseraltimeter and other instruments that can produce an accurate global map of theMoon for upcoming expeditions there.

"We'restill formulating our plans for providing communication and navigation forfuture explorers on the Moon, but I can foresee NASA collaborating with otherspacefaring nations like the United Kingdom in providing such infrastructure," Griffin told the BritishRoyal Society.

NASAhas nearly 60 on-going space and Earth science missions, Griffin observed, and overhalf of these missions have some form of international participation.

"Two-thirdsof all NASA missions currently under development incorporate internationalpartners. And of course, NASA's premier human spaceflight program, thedevelopment of the International Space Station, is an effort involving some 15nations," Griffin said.

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