NASA is in the process of constructing the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, a space station that will be orbiting around the Moon.
In the next half decade, the space agency aims to launch the lunar outpost and extend the presence of the human race into deep space. The project is expected to enable scientific and commercial activities on the moon.
The first piece of the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway — the power and propulsion — is scheduled to lift off in 2022.
Over The Moon
Similar to the International Space Station, the lunar outpost will regularly host astronauts onboard to conduct studies about deep space, control rovers from orbit, or even land on the surface of the Moon. However, the 1,942 cubic feet (33 cubic meters) outpost can only accommodate up to four people, living and working around the Moon for 30 to 60 days at a time.
The space agency also said that the lunar outpost will not solely be hosting a U.S. crew; it will be open to anyone conducting research. Because the cost of sending people to the Moon via NASA's Space Launch System or SLS will be expensive, the space agency expects the outpost to be empty for most of the year.
"We're trying to use interoperability standards for both the docking, power, avionics, a lot of other systems," stated John Guidi, deputy director of the Advanced Exploration Systems division of NASA, John Guidi, "The attempt there is to open up the ability for other nations, other companies, to dock. They would have to bring their own resources."
In comparison, the ISS sees six crewmembers onboard, each living and working on the space station for five to six months.
Despite the absence of humans, the lunar outpost will be operational all year round. It will continue to study deep space and the Moon through autonomous scientific gears that will be able to collect data nonstop.
Pit Stop To The Universe
NASA also envisions the lunar outpost as an important step to becoming a space-faring race. The Moon is a lot farther from Earth than the ISS and, so, the space agency hopes that the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway can serve as a jump-off point for manned missions into deep space.
"The whole goal of Gateway ... is to basically get humans a little deeper into space, so we'll have a place where we can learn to do both science and actually have human missions for long duration away from Earth, with the ultimate goal of getting us on a good Martian mission and having that first human mission to Mars," stated Kat Coderre of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program.
The Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway is part of the effort of the space agency to bring humans back to the Moon 50 years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had walked on its surface for the first time.