Sure, we’ve been there before, but perhaps all this First Man fervor is getting to NASA, because we’re heading back to the Moon by 2024 — and this time we’re staying, thanks to the Deep Space Gateway.
Okay, we’ve known about some of these lunar longings since the Gateway was first announced back in March 2017, long before Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic took Venice by storm, but now, thanks to a recent presentation by the Human Exploration and Operations Committee for NASA’s Advisory Council, we have a much clearer sense of what those plans are.
The centerpiece of the massive undertaking is the Deep Space Gateway, also known as the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, which NASA ambitiously expects to send into orbit around the Moon some six years from now. The goal of the Gateway is to provide a habitat for up to four crew members, which will serve as a hub for human and robotic space exploration to the Moon and beyond.
“Right now, our near-term focus is the Moon and returning humans there,” said NASA spokesperson Kathryn Hambleton (via Futurism), with the goal being “to build up our technology capabilities, test our systems, and test our operations while we are still a few days from Earth before we are ready to take on the multi-month journey to Mars.”
As you can see in the layout above, the Gateway will feature a number of components. Prominent among them are the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), which powers the platform, allowing it to reach different orbits. There’s also the Airlock, where spacewalking astronauts can come and go, and where various rockets can dock. And then there’s the Habitat, pressurized sections that will serve as home to crew members for up to 90-day missions.
Granted, NASA (as well as the private sector, they’re hoping) is going to have some monumental challenges to overcome to make this all a reality, particularly by the proposed launch date. For starters, they’re going to need a bigger boat in order to get the major components into place. To get all the gear and astronauts into orbit — some 37 metric tons (81,000 lbs) of cargo — NASA is going to need a giant rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which currently doesn’t exist (SpaceX's Falcon Heavy only has an estimated payload between 18-22 metric tons). And then they plan on using the still-in-development Orion Spacecraft to ease those parts into place.
So yes, a lot of pieces will have to fall into place. But the Moon has certainly brought the best out of NASA before, right?