Although NASA has announced that its eyes are fixed on Mars, it hasn’t quite figured out how to get there just yet.
Turns out, the agency is exploring the possibility of returning to the Moon as a stepping stone toward Mars, and according to a recent report, this method is cheaper than current estimates — about $US10 billion cheaper. Per year.
To determine if the Moon is worth returning to, NASA called upon former NASA Senior Advisor for Commercial Space, Charles Miller, and his consultant company, NexGen Space LLC, to figure out whether such a plan would make financial sense.
So the company assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers to figure out if the mission was possible, both economically and technically. They presented their results Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
The team discovered that, by utilising existing partnerships with commercial service providers like SpaceX and Boeing, NASA could return humans to the Moon for “approximately 90% less than the previously estimated $US100 billion,” according to a NextGen press release. Ultimately, they envision a lunar base that looks something like this:
Returning to the Moon has its benefits: Scientists suspect that the lunar poles could harbour frozen water, perhaps in corners of craters that never see sunlight. That could prove useful for the astronauts, since water is an important ingredient for rocket fuel but incredibly heavy and obscenely expensive to send into space.
The NexGen team says that if humans mined water on the Moon, they could use it as a pit stop to fuel future spacecraft on their way to Mars. The less rocket fuel fuel NASA has to send into space, the more money it saves.
Before NASA starts aiming rockets at the Moon, however, there are a few things to measure first, one of the most important being to how much water is actually on the Moon.
“That is one of the weak parts of the study because we don’t know how much [water] is on the Moon,” said Christopher Kraft — NASA’s first Flight Director who helped establish the agency’s Mission Control operation and friend of Miller — in a YouTube clip. “If it’s very little then this study would not apply.”
But if it turns out the Moon does have enough water, sending it into orbit around the Moon so astronauts can use the Moon as a gas station stop could “reduce the cost to NASA of sending humans to Mars by as much as $US10 billion per year,” NexGen stated in their executive summary.
What’s more, if we established a permanent lunar base on the Moon to mine water, the project would “substantially, it not completely, pay for itself,” NexGen said in their executive summary.
Despite the study’s weak points, Kraft says that the NexGen team did a good job addressing how NASA could, in theory, get to Mars by way of the Moon.
“I think [the report is] a very good one,” Kraft said in the recorded interview. “It says that [a mission to the Moon] can be done. It will take good management and good leadership on the part of both the aerospace industry and NASA.”
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