Several commercial spaceflight companies are expressing interest in establishing a base on the Moon, which they envision as a fueling station and launch site for longer missions, including those carrying the first humans to Mars.
Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are seriously exploring the establishment of a permanent living space on the Moon within the next few decades.
ULA, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is planning a permanent lunar refueling site that could house up to 1,000 people in the next 30 years.
Launching a Mars or deep space mission from the Moon is easier than launching from Earth because the Moon has one-sixth of Earth’s gravity.
Rockets aiming to escape Earth’s gravity need to travel at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour and carry all the fuel they need for their missions.
The ability to refuel on the Moon would change this dramatically. Ice in regions of the Moon that are permanently in shadow could be mined to create rocket fuel through a process that produces the hydrogen-oxygen propellant many rockets already use.
Because the lunar regions containing the needed ice are cold and in permanent shadow, a system of rovers would be needed to retrieve the ice.
Without having to carry heavy loads of fuel, rockets could transport more science equipment or even people into orbit.
Another possible option is placing a refueling station at the Earth-Moon Lagrangian Point 1, about 85 percent of the way from the Earth to the Moon.
Powered by solar panels, this station would serve as a site for melting ice from the Moon, transforming it into fuel, and storing the fuel.
The station would be ideal for launching uncrewed missions to the outer planets and could even tow a Mars-bound spacecraft from low-Earth orbit via solar-electric propulsion.
Costs to NASA missions looking for signs of microbial life on moons of Jupiter and Saturn would be significantly reduced by development of such a station.
The base would also cut down on the fuel spacecraft would have to carry, enabling them to triple the amount of payload they could transport to Mars, potentially reducing the estimated $110 billion cost of a crewed mission.