The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 44.0°F | Overcast

NASA Plans to Construct Permanent Rudimentary Moon Base After 2020

By Warren E. Leary
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

NASA announced plans on Monday for a permanent base on the moon, to be started soon after astronauts return there around 2020.

The agency’s deputy administrator, Shana Dale, said the United States would develop rockets and spacecraft to get people to the moon and establish a rudimentary base. There, other countries and commercial interests could expand the outpost to develop scientific and other interests, she said.

Dale and other NASA officials said the agency envisioned a base at one of the lunar poles, to take advantage of the near-constant sunlight for solar-power generation, and giving it an “open architecture” design to which others can add the capabilities they want.

Scott Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, said crews of four astronauts would make week-long missions to the moon starting around 2020. As more equipment was set up, human stays would eventually grow to 180 days, and become permanent by 2024. By 2027, officials said, a pressurized roving vehicle on the surface would take people on expeditions far from the base.

NASA gave no cost estimate for the program and no design details for a possible moon base. Dale said all plans assumed that the agency would continue operating from a fixed budget of about $17 billion a year.

The space shuttle fleet is to be retired by 2010, and the United States plans to scale back its involvement in the International Space Station. The station is still under construction, with a mission by the shuttle Discovery to lift off this week. Dale said money would be shifted from the shuttle and the station to the lunar exploration program.

While the Bush administration and NASA have spoken in general terms about plans for a return to the moon, followed by human spaceflight to Mars, this is the first time officials have proposed a permanent lunar base.

“We’re going for a base on the moon,” Horowitz said. “It’s a very, very big decision.”

Many gaps in the plan remain to be filled in. NASA called Monday’s announcement a baseline concept.

In a televised news conference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston on the eve of an international conference there on space exploration, Dale said the plan was developed after consultation with space agencies representing 14 countries and more than 1,000 experts in space science and commerce.

“The door is open for international and commercial interests,” she said.

The lunar base plan is part of a larger effort to develop an international exploration strategy, one that explains why and how humans are returning to the moon and what they plan to do when they get there, NASA officials said.

The planning includes an international conference early next year on setting scientific goals for returning to the moon — including those that private interests might want to pursue.