NASA has revealed how it plans to return humans to the Moon, almost five decades after we first set foot there.
The Exploration Campaign, as it has been called, is the answer to President Trump’s signing of Space Policy Directive-1, which tasked NASA to “enable human expansion across the Solar System.”
“In answer to that bold call, and consistent with the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, NASA recently submitted to Congress a plan to revitalize and add direction to NASA’s enduring purpose,” NASA said in a statement.
“The National Space Exploration Campaign calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos.”
The plan has five key steps. The first is to hand over responsibility for human activity in low Earth orbit to private companies – something that is underway with the Commercial Crew Program championed by President Obama. This includes handing over some or all of the International Space Station (ISS) to private companies by 2025.
Next will be working out what to actually do on the surface of the Moon, and looking at taking humans beyond cislunar space – that between Earth and our natural satellite. The third goal is to use robotic missions to study resources on the Moon.
The fourth goal is to return US astronauts to the surface of the Moon, “for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.” Meaning that this time NASA doesn’t plan to just get boots on the ground – it wants to stay there for longer periods of time, making use of a planned new space station in orbit near the Moon called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.
“NASA is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s,” they said. “This will be the first chance for the majority of people alive today to witness a Moon landing – a moment when, in awe and wonder, the world holds its breath.”
And finally, NASA plans to demonstrate how it will take humans to Mars – something that has been the agency’s end goal in one form or another for decades. Although it doesn’t give firm dates, it said it wants to start crewed missions to Mars orbit in the 2030s, “culminating in a surface landing.”
Observers will note NASA has gone through quite a few plans like this before, most notably the Journey to Mars. And this latest plan is still devoid of, you know, actual details of how any of this will work. Still, it’s nice to have some sort of roadmap in place. Let’s see how long this one lasts.