A NASA moon outpost has reportedly been in the works with a secret manned mission already in the planning stages. According to SPACE.com, the plan “has already been cleared by the Obama administration, but officials kept the plan under wraps until Barack Obama secured a second term in the Oval Office.”
This NASA moon outpost is just the beginning for plans already announced in 2010 by President Obama. The long-term goal is to send astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025. The final mission in these plans is to launch a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030s.
“NASA has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan,” said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University. SPACE.com explains the technical jargon: “The Earth-moon L2 is a so-called libration point where the two bodies’ gravitational pulls roughly balance out, allowing spacecraft to essentially park there.”
But how are we to afford such a lofty goal? NASA officials think they can pull off such manned missions without busting their budget, which stands at $17.7 billion in the proposed 2013 federal budget despite being slashed by $309 million by President Obama. This assumes that the Senate actually manages to pass a budget, which it has not done in over three years, and that the upcoming fiscal cliff does not harm such government programs.
Unfortunately, these cuts were specific to the long-term Mars plans which reduce their budget by 20 percent. Although space exploration is getting slashed President Obama is proposing an increase to the $2.6 billion in spending focused on the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which largely includes climate research departments of NASA. Despite the budget cuts NASA remains hopeful.
“They’re not talking about plans that imply significant budget increases,” Logsdon said. “It gives a more focused use for SLS and Orion before an asteroid mission.”
What are the chances of the NASA moon output even getting off the ground?
“We just recently delivered a comprehensive report to Congress outlining our destinations which makes clear that SLS will go way beyond low-Earth orbit to explore the expansive space around the Earth-moon system, near-Earth asteroids, the moon, and ultimately, Mars,” NASA deputy chief Lori Garver said at a conference in September. “Let me say that again: We’re going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars.”
Even if NASA cannot pull off a moon outpost it’s possible that others will still reach for the moon. Ever since the NASA space shuttle program was mothballed the impetus has been on private space companies to take the lead formerly held by NASA. Boeing and Space-X have been building up in the Space Coast, which is my backyard. In fact, Boeing proposed essentially the same thing to NASA, suggesting the development of what it called an “Exploration Gateway Platform architecture that not only returns man to the lunar surface—via the use of only one SLS launch to a reusable Lunar Lander—but provides a baseline for pathfinders towards an eventual crewed mission to Mars.”
I’d like to see a NASA moon outpost in my lifetime. How about you?