NASA hopes to return astronauts to the Moon in ten years

Plan calls for lunar space station to be crewed by 2024.

NASA is planning to send astronauts to a space station in lunar orbit by 2024 and return them to the surface of the Moon within 10 years.

These goals were announced on Monday, August 27, during a NASA presentation on the proposed lunar space station dubbed the Deep Space Gateway, which will be designed as an outpost for astronauts who will eventually travel into deep space.

Gateway’s features will include a habitat module for astronauts, a module to generate power and propulsion, and an airlock space vehicles can use to dock at the space station.

Like the International Space Station (ISS), Gateway will also serve as a site for science research.

While NASA hopes to build the power module through a partnership with a private company, no contracts for its construction have yet been awarded.  The space agency hopes to launch this module by 2022.

The power module will be launched on a commercial rocket while the habitat module will launch on NASA’s new large rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which will undergo its first flight, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), carrying an un-crewed Orion capsule around the Moon.

A second SLS mission, EM-2, is scheduled to carry astronauts around the Moon on the Orion capsule in 2022.

Following a third SLS launch, this time of a robotic mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, NASA plans to launch the habitat module along with astronauts into lunar orbit on EM-3 in 2024. This launch will require a more powerful version of SLS, whose development is still in its early stages.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence, in a speech at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, announced the goal of sending astronauts to Gateway before the end of President Donald Trump’s possible second term. That milestone will be followed by human landings on the Moon, possibly as soon as 2026.

Returning astronauts to the Moon will require construction of a lander that can carry them from Gateway to the lunar surface and back again. NASA plans to accomplish this in a partnership with private aerospace companies, starting with robotic landers and working up to crewed landers.

Meeting these goals will require development of much new technology and avoidance of the delays that have plagued the SLS program over the last few years.


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