Within the next decade, humans could return to the moon for the first time in over 40 years, according to a new study partly funded by NASA. In true NASA fashion, the report aims even higher than just another moon mission, proposing that building a permanent base on the moon for humans to live in could be within reach within about two decades — all under NASA's current budget.
NexGen Space put together a team of former NASA executives and engineers to thoroughly assess the viability — both economically and technically — of what they call an "Evolvable Lunar Architecture." The key to this plan is leveraging resources already available to public and private space through partnerships, a practice that NASA has already adopted for resupplying the International Space Station and other aspects of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The report was released on July 20, 2015, the 46th anniversary of the first moonwalk.
"Based on the experience of recent NASA program innovations, such as the COTS program, a human return to the moon may not be as expensive as previously thought," the study concludes.
Currently, NASA receives just under $4 billion per year for human spaceflight. This new study estimates that America could put humans on the moon again for the first time since 1972 for about $10 billion and lead the development of a permanent industrial lunar base for the low, low price of $40 billion. Previous estimates put the cost of such an endeavor at about 10 times that much.
That first $10 billion needed just to get humans to the moon at all would get split evenly between two competing private space companies. Over the course of five to seven years, each company would be tasked with developing its own crewed lunar lander as well as upgrading a commercial crew spacecraft. This redundancy is key, as it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that one of these efforts will fail.
The additional $40 billion that would go into developing a permanent commercial base on the surface of the moon would be spent over the course of 10 to 12 years and would open up new economic opportunities. Mining the moon's polar water ice for hydrogen that can be converted into valuable cryogenic propellant would benefit NASA as well as others in need of a way to fuel a mission to Mars, according to the study.
A 21-person independent review team — comprised of former NASA astronauts and administration members as well as members of the commercial spaceflight industry — vetted the study. Still, if NASA's budget continues to get cut, this proposed mission may not be possible. Returning to the moon will require more than just a careful, cost-effective plan. It will require the support of the U.S. government as well.
"This is the way that America will settle the final frontier, save taxpayers money and usher in a new era of economic growth and STEM innovation," Jeff Feige, Space Frontier Foundation chairman of the board, said in a statement.
Via: The Verge