NASA has decided its next big mission, and according to the Orlando Sentinel, it's a project that aims to build a base on the moon. Sound familiar? That's because it's not just NASA who's thinking of building outposts on Earth's natural satellite. Japan's and Russia's space agencies are working on the same thing, former presidential-hopeful Newt Gingrich wanted to make the moon a U.S. state by 2020, and even Domino's hopes to ship a franchise out there to feed the moon's first human colony.
The U.S. space agency isn't planning to build infrastructures on the moon's surface, though... at least not yet. It will instead create what it calls a "gateway spacecraft" that will stay in orbit above the far side of the moon, or the other side of what we see when look up at the night sky. The spacecraft will be designed to support a small crew of astronauts — just like the International Space Station (ISS) — and will serve as the base for future moon and Mars missions.
The spacecraft will likely be built using leftover ISS parts and will stay at a location where the gravity isn't that strong so it can operate using minimal amount of fuel. However, there's one thing NASA has to iron out before it can start putting a gateway spacecraft together: funding. NASA has to secure billions of dollars for the project, which won't be easy considering the agency has been hard up for money due to budget cuts. The agency also has to ensure that safety of its astronauts and come up with a viable rescue plan in case of emergency — something that's difficult to do when the far side of the moon is much, much farther than the current location of the ISS.
If everything goes well for NASA, it will send its new rocket (that's currently being developed) on a test flight in 2017. Construction on the gateway spacecraft will begin in 2019.
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