We have a long way to go until we mount a manned mission to Mars, but a new study suggests we could save a lot of money by making a pit stop at the moon.
A new study published in the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets by a team from MIT notes it could be much more cost-effective in the long term to focus on setting up an operation on the moon to convert lunar water ice into propellant, then fueling future spaceships at a lunar outpost. As Space notes, this strategy could reduce the mass of a Mars mission by up to 68 percent at launch — meaning it’d be a whole lot lighter and cheaper to get it up in the air.
It might sound kind of crazy, but long-term, the study notes it could be an extremely cost-effective gateway to travel around our solar system:
“This is completely against the established common wisdom of how to go to Mars, which is a straight shot to Mars, carry everything with you," study co-author Olivier de Weck, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT, said. "The idea of taking a detour into the lunar system … it's very unintuitive. But from an optimal network and big-picture view, this could be very affordable in the long term, because you don't have to ship everything from Earth.”
Basically, the plan would be to set up a gas station in lunar orbit to fuel the ship, which would allow you to add all that additional weight once the ship is already in space. The fuel would be created from water ice in the moon’s poles, which contain hydrogen and oxygen (aka the stuff needed for rocket fuel).
Though the concept is currently just an academic one, NASA has taken note of the study and says it could potentially be adapted into the long-term strategy to put humans on Mars.
What do you think? Is setting up a spaceship truck stop on the moon a good idea?