US Announces Moon Base, Lunar Lander Plan
NASA's plan for beginning human occupation of the moon will most likely begin at one of its poles. Space agency moon exploration planner Douglas Cooke says the poles are safer and have more moderate temperatures. They have not only areas bathed in permanent sunlight but also locales of permanent darkness to preserve water ice that can be used for life support and be broken down into oxygen and hydrogen fuels.
Cooke says the most likely target is Shackleton crater at the moon's south pole, but that the final base location will be determined when the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter completes a detailed moon map after its late 2008 launch.
"We begin with relatively short missions and build up the capability so we can stay longer and we get up to a point where we can stay 180 days and potentially have a permanent presence there," said Douglas Cooke.
NASA's plan is to begin with four astronauts and increase the human presence as the moon base grows.
The plan is part of the Bush administration's program to expand the U.S. human occupation in space beyond the International Space station in low Earth orbit up to the moon and eventually to Mars and other solar system destinations.
The chief of NASA's exploration directorate, former astronaut Scott Horowitz, says the space agency plans to have the design for the lunar lander completed by 2013. The goal is to have a flexible vehicle capable of doing many things on the moon.
"The nickname I use for the lander is - it's a pickup truck," said Scott Horowitz. "You can put whatever you want in the bed. You can take it to wherever you want and so you can deliver cargo, crew, do it robotically, do it with humans on board. These are the types of things we're looking for in these systems."
NASA outlined the moon exploration plan after extensive consultation with scientists, the aerospace industry, and the space agencies of 14 countries. The United States will provide transportation to the moon, and once there, build the initial base infrastructure and provide communication, navigation, and spacewalk capabilities. But NASA says the door is wide open for other countries to provide other types of support, including habitation, power, and development and use of the moon's resources.
NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale says international cooperation is critical.
"One of the great benefits of the International Space Station has been the great international collaboration that has come out of that and it is something that I think is key to the future," noted Shana Dale.
NASA says its goal is to enable sustainable space exploration in which all partners can achieve individual gains with mutually beneficial results.