Unveiling the agency's bold plan for a return to the moon, NASA said it will establish an international base camp on one of the moon's poles, permanently staffing it by 2024, four years after astronauts land there.
It is a sweeping departure from the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and represents a new phase of space exploration after space shuttles are retired in 2010.
NASA chose a "lunar outpost" over the short expeditions of the '60s. Apollo flights were all around the middle area of the moon, but NASA decided to go to the moon's poles because they are best for longer-term settlements. And this time NASA is welcoming other nations on its journey.
The more likely of the two lunar destinations is the moon's south pole because it's sunlit for three-quarters of the time. That offers a better locale for solar power, plus the site has possible resources to mine nearby, said associate deputy administrator Doug Cooke.
The estimated time frame for NASA's lunar plans are:
2009 — a first test of one of the lunar spaceships.
2014 — the first manned test flight of the Orion crew exploration vehicle, but no moon landing.
2020 — the first flight of the four-astronaut crew to the moon.
For four years, the lunar base won't be built up enough for long visits, so astronauts will only spend a week at a time. But after that, NASA envisions people living on the moon for six-month stints.
NASA also hopes that hydrogen, oxygen and other moon resources can be used as supplies for the lunar outpost. Eventually, getting oxygen there may be simple enough that it could be turned over to a commercial supplier, Horowitz said.
NASA's vision for the moon is more than just American astronauts — it includes space travelers from other countries and even commercial interests, if possible.
Having other countries sign onto the project would save NASA money, although the United States will design the moon vehicles, NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said. And while NASA welcomed its current partners on the international space station — Russia, Europe and Japan — the agency was cagey about its most enigmatic space rival, China, which has made noises about going to the moon.
ARGH! International badbadbadbad. We have a hard enough time controlling costs when its just Americans...start putting others in and we get way out of control. Period.