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How will we boldly go to our next space frontier? NASA & William Shatner launch a chat at Comic-Con@Home

By James Comtois
NASA Blue Origin lunar lander design

Admittedly, NASA's plan to plant fresh bootprints on the surface of the moon by 2024 seems ... ambitious, to put it mildly. But a pair of astronauts, along with some technology and engineering experts from NASA, explained how this mission may not be so impossible. 

At the Comic-Con@Home panel hosted by none other than William Shatner on Saturday, panelist Nicole Mann, an astronaut with NASA, explained that the multi-tiered Artemis program to bring astronauts back to the moon has been in the works for a while now. 

“We've been working on this for quite a long time,” Mann said. "The rocket SLS [Space Launch System] is almost complete and built, the Orion spacecraft is already down at Kennedy Space Center.”

Mann added: “It takes a long time, and the reason why is because these systems are much safer, much more technologically advanced in the past. And instead of going and just staying for a day or two on the moon's surface, we're building a Gateway, which will be in cislunar orbit around the moon and astronauts will live on board there for up to 30 days.”

Last year, NASA released photos of the Orion spacecraft set to take the first woman and next man to the moon. The space agency has stated that it wants to do more than put boots back onto the lunar surface. The goal of this mission is to make multiple trips to the moon and back sustainable so it can build a lunar base. From there, NASA can eventually send humans to Mars. After all, why should the rovers have all the fun? 

The key to developing this sense of sustainability whereby astronauts are staying on the moon, either via an outpost or a mobile habitat like a rover, is by developing infrastructure and improving upon technology.

“We need to develop the infrastructure so that astronauts can live and work [on the moon] for an extended period of time,” said space technology expert and panelist LaNetra Tate. “We’re working on technologies to get us prepared for that sustainability for 2028.”

And among these technologies, according to Tate, is developing ion propulsion technology, part of a project that will allow NASA “to do larger missions that [they] haven’t been able to do before.”

Tate began to explain: “If you remember from Star Wars the TIE fighters...”

“Star Wars?!” Shatner interrupted, mock indignant.

Tate immediately switched gears — and franchises. “Wait! But wait! Bill! Remember the episode [of Star Trek: TOS] you did on Spock’s brain and you were all enamored with the ion propulsion system?”

Fortunately, Shatner did, and was sated. A close call. (OK, not really.)

Ultimately, according to Tate, NASA is working “with the brightest people in the country to develop these cool technologies that we can infuse into our NASA missions."

Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of Comic-Con@Home 2020.