In these times of doing seemingly nothing, it seems like the perfect opportunity to dream about doing something incredible. Like not just going back to the Moon, but staying there.
NASA got one step closer to the Lunar surface last week with the release of the Artemis moon mission sustainability concept “Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development,” detailing plans for the extended mission’s out of this world lunar surface (and just above) infrastructure. Once they get that in place, theoretically, the idea is to use this impressive base as a launch pad for not just lunar exploration, but Martian.
Created in response to the Chairman of the National Space Council’s direction “to provide a plan for a sustained lunar presence, including the technologies and capabilities to enable the first human mission to Mars,” NASA first lays out their broad Level Zero Goals for exploration, which encompass three primary domains: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars.
Besides landing American astronauts on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth, these Level Zero Goals include a transition to commercial operation for U.S. human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit, while using the ISS and commercial facilities for testbeds of new technologies; advance long-term lunar robotic exploration in preparation for Mars; and expansion of U.S. manned spaceflights to the Moon to support long-term lunar “surface activities and to demonstrate elements of a Mars-forward architecture.”
Then they get a bit more specific as to how some of those goals will look, including utilizing NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) to get into the Moon’s orbit, then deploying the Gateway, Artemis’ lunar orbiting platform, comprised of the already under contract power and propulsion element (PPE) and the habitation and logistics outpost (HALO). Then comes the Gateway crew, followed by the human landing system (HLS) to reach the lunar surface.
Once on the Moon's surface, the plans call for an Artemis Base Camp at the South Pole of the Moon, where a four-astronaut crew will live for one to two month stays in the foundation surface habitat. The base camp will also contain a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) for short range exploration, and a larger, fully contained and pressurized habitable mobility platform rover for longer trips up to 45 days.
Over the coming decades while building sustained lunar capabilities, NASA will also look to add infrastructure supporting “communications, power, radiation shielding, a landing pad, waste disposal, and storage planning.”
Of course, for political reasons (aka funding), NASA isn’t just appealing to the mission’s scientific validations, but also the economic ones. So another core focus of the mission is to extend the United States’ “geo-strategic and economic sphere,” while working with international and private industry partners. This includes establishing “a predictable and safe process for the extraction and use of space resources under the auspices of the Outer Space Treaty.” (Hopefully that means Moon rocks will be made more widely available.)
Fittingly for such a bold proposition, the plan ends by stating perhaps its most important goal: to commit ourselves to inspiring the world by proving yet again “the positive potential of humanity as a whole.”
If all goes according to plan, NASA will inspire every “step of the way,” and bring astronauts to “the vicinity" of the Moon by 2023, with a surface landing eyed for 2024. Just a little something to dream about in these dark times.