Why Not Both? NASA Reveals Detailed Mission Plan To Return To The Moon And Land Humans On Mars

Friday, 28 September 2018 - 1:06PM
Space
Moon
NASA
Friday, 28 September 2018 - 1:06PM
Why Not Both? NASA Reveals Detailed Mission Plan To Return To The Moon And Land Humans On Mars
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For the past few years we've been excited by big announcements coming out of NASA, like the Deep Space Gateway and the deep-space Orion spacecraft – but those were just pieces of a grander puzzle NASA has been working on for the past few years. We now have NASA's full vision for revolutionizing the United States' relationship with space, including initiatives to return to the Moon for long-term exploration and settlement and plans to turn lunar space into a jumping-off point for crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s. It's called "The National Space Exploration Campaign," and it's set to go down in history as the next major chapter in the US space program.

The plan is divided into three categories: In Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), In Cislunar Space, and On Mars, and has five goals: 
  1. Transition U.S. human spaceflight activities in low-Earth orbit to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.
  2. Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
  3. Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
  4. Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and use.
  5. Demonstrate the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.


The efforts in LEO mainly focus on the International Space Station, which NASA sees as the main platform for private and commercial industries to experiment with moving into space. NASA has apparently awarded 12 contracts to various companies, some of which involve investigating "the viability of habitable platforms, using the space station or separate free-flying structures." In layman's terms, NASA is taking a look at the possibility of expanding the ISS or building new space stations for humans.

As exciting as that sounds, the Moon is where most of the action is going to happen. NASA wants to send start searching the lunar surface for resources and establishing permanent bases for long-term exploration, as well as begin construction of the Gateway, which will be an essential waypoint for both lunar and deep space missions. On top of that, the Moon is being cast as a kind of training ground for future missions to other planets (like Mars) and a big space lab, similar to the ISS.

Finally, there's Mars. Plans are still tentative, but so far NASA's InSight and Mars 2020 rover are conceived as paving the way for later crewed missions, as well as scouts for resources on the Red Planet. "The first human landing on Mars–audacious in its complexity–will be an achievement recalled with awe far into humanity's future," NASA said in its press release outlining the Campaign.

We couldn't agree more. You can read the full plan here, and check out the press release here.
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