So long International Space Station, hello Moon! The moon is at the forefront of some big plans for the 2016 calendar for both NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and ESA (European Space Agency). Although the two agencies are headed in different directions, one thing is clear, ISS is out and the Moon is in.
The ISS isn’t totally out yet; the United States said they will start transitioning away from using the ISS in 2024. Russia, Canada, and Japan have also agreed to go till at least 2024 also. However, two of Europe’s biggest ISS backers, Germany and France, have expressed separately that they might end their stay on the ISS as early as 2020. They haven’t committed to anything but they have said their governments are both doing cost studies on the issue.
This announcement comes just a month after ESA announced their plans to build a living complex on the moon. At ESA’s international symposium, they laid out their plan to 3D print living modules that astronauts can live in for months at a time. ESA says that this community can be built in as little as five years. The goal is to send robots to the moon by the early 2020s to construct the base for humans to move in just a few years after. At the symposium, ESA clarified that this doesn’t mean they are giving up on Mars, but that this can be a stepping stone for that trip. Sound pretty familiar? Well that is because it is!
You might remember from the article on upcoming plans for humans on Mars that going to the Moon is a critical part of the “proving ground” phase on NASA’s plan. For those of you who don’t, NASA’s plan for journey to Mars includes a step in which they have extended manned missions to the moon in the 2020s before they send people to Mars. The idea is that the moon is close so astronauts can come home in a matter of hours while they experiment with living in a different habitat. This is opposed to the months long journey home from Mars. Although this plan was proposed in 2010, it seems ESA is starting to follow NASA’s footsteps. NASA isn’t building a base on the moon though; they are making a habitat that orbits the Moon.
NASA has some pretty big moves up its sleeve for this year also. The early 2020s are right around the corner which means NASA has got to start coming out with proposed plans for its habitat orbiting the moon. With a new completely funded budget this year (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?), congress also has demands for NASA to get the ball moving on this lunar orbiter. Right now, the major contender for making a lunar habitat is Bigelow Aerospace whose inflatable living space can also be used during the trip to Mars. This structure is scheduled to test as a module on the ISS this year! However, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK all have their hats in the ring with contracts from NASA up to 1 million dollars. So keep an ear out for those proposals to start rolling in.
See you later Dr. Floyd 😉