NASA is deciding whether or not to approve the construction of a human-tended outpost close to the far side of the Moon.
According to a February 3 memo leaked to Space.com, a team is being put together to devise a plan for exploring a part of space known as ‘Earth-Moon libration point 2′ or EML-2.
What’s a libration point? In short, it’s a part of space where the gravitational pull of two massive objects (in this case, the Earth and the Moon) cancel one another out. This means objects (such as an outpost, say) can remain in that one spot, held rigidly in place by gravity.
Establishing a waypoint close to the Moon that can be used by humans would open up all sorts of possibilities, including the exploration of near-lunar space, the Moon, the moons of Mars and eventually Mars itself. Should an astronaut-manned waypoint be constructed at EML-2, it would represent the farthest man has traveled from Earth. A mission to an EML-2 outpost would reportedly have astronauts traveling 15 percent farther from Earth than the Apollo astronauts. The length of their stay in deep space would be trebled.
NASA would require participation from commercial and/or academic sectors to proceed with the construction of an outpost. Such a construction would use NASA’s already-proposed heavy-lift rocket, also known as the Space Launch System, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle as “foundational elements.”
The research team mentioned in NASA’s memo has been given a deadline to complete its study of March 30, 2012.
[Via Space.com, image is artist's impression]