Nearly 50 years after the successful launch of Apollo 11, NASA laid out a comprehensive and sustainable campaign to return to the moon.
On Thursday, Sept. 27, the space agency unveiled The National Space Exploration Campaign, which aims to send manned and robotic missions to the moon and, later on, Mars. This is in line with the Space Policy Directive-1, which was signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump back in December.
The Exploration Campaign
The space agency has five strategic goals in the next few decades, which involves transitioning low-orbit activities to private sectors, sending rovers to explore the surface of the moon, sending astronauts to return to the moon, and jumpstart the long-term goal of sending humans to Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.
The 21-page roadmap mentions plans that have previously been disclosed to the public. NASA hopes for American astronauts to orbit the moon as early as 2023 and then land on the surface in the late 2020s.
They also plan to build a Lunar Gateway, an orbiting platform similar to the International Space Station that will host scientific research and become the jump-off point for future interstellar travels. The project is supported by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is the head of the National Space Council.
The report reveals that some elements of the Lunar Gateway are currently under construction in several facilities across the United States. The first element, which will provide power and propulsion to the outpost, is scheduled to be launched into space by 2022.
Meanwhile, subsequent robotic and manned missions will aim to catalog the resources available in the Moon. NASA says that astronauts will act as modern-day Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who will survey the scientific and commercial opportunities on the surface of the moon. This includes finding out whether there are deposits of water that can be used for deep space explorations or a human colony.
Next Stop: Mars
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine assured that the planned missions to the moon will not be an alternative to landing to Mars. The ultimate goal is still to send humans on the surface of the red planet and beyond.
"The moon is the proving ground, and Mars is the goal," he said during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 26. "The glory of the moon is that it's only a three-day journey home. So, we can prove all of the technologies, we can reduce all of the risks, we can try all of the different maturations that are necessary to live and work on another world."
NASA hopes to send a manned mission to Mars by 2030s.