The European Space Agency and NASA are teaming up for a future exploration mission that may enable astronauts to travel around the moon in the next few years.

Come 2021, astronauts will be able to go around the moon. However, the space agencies do not intend for a lunar surface landing but are looking to get a craft in orbit of the moon.

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the ESA revealed that in tandem with Airbus, an agreement has been reached with NASA to create a second module for a manned mission that will go around the Earth's natural satellite five years from now.

ESA and Airbus, the aerospace company, have already provided a supply module and transported a propulsion for NASA's Orion spacecraft's unmanned mission in 2018.

In recent years, the farthest humans have journeyed beyond the Earth is the International Space Station. Astronauts went beyond Earth's low orbit to reach the moon way back in 1972. This was the last instance, when NASA closed its Apollo program.

The Proposed Mission

The new mission will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early 2021, according to reports. The manned mission will have a maximum of four astronauts, but the composition and size of the crew will be determined by NASA nearer to the launch time.

Reportedly, the manned mission from NASA and ESA will see the spacecraft trail three increasingly elongating orbits, so that it can go around the moon and then come back to Earth. The purpose of the mission is for the spacecraft to re-enter Earth quicker than any other manned mission before.

Dave Parker, ESA's director of human spaceflight, expressed his excitement when the mission was revealed in 2016.

"We are excited to be a part of this historic mission and appreciate NASA's trust in us to help extend humanity's exploration farther afield into our Solar System," said Parker, at the time.

The manned mission planned for 2021 is going to be the follow-up for the Orion spacecraft mission slated for 2018. The latter, however, is an unmanned mission.

The new manned mission is eyeing to go around the moon come 2021, but the long-term plan based on reports is to use the spacecraft to ferry astronauts to Mars in the coming years.

With the ESA and NASA collaborating on making the lunar mission a reality after a 50-year gap, it will be interesting to see how things pan out for the partnership in the future.

Photo: Michael Seeley | Flickr

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