NASA Moving Forward On Moonbase Plans

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NASA is moving forward with plans to establish a base on the far side of the moon.

The idea, which would expand human spaceflight beyond Low Earth orbit for the first time since Apollo 17 in late 1972, is to use libration points, also known as Lagrange points, to “park” a spacecraft at a fixed point. These points occur where the gravitational pull of two different cosmic bodies cancel out, basically creating a parking space.

Right now, it seems NASA is most interested in Earth-moon libration point L2 on the far side of the moon. For one thing, it’s actually easier to get to even than lunar orbit, and if we sent a craft out there it would be the farthest human space explorers have ever flown. It’s also located beyond Earth’s Van Allen Radiation Belts, which would give us an opportunity to see how astronauts live for an extended period of time outside of those belts.

Though it’s only officially existed so far as an idea, sources tell Space.com that the L2 base idea is gaining “support” within the agency as a way to move human exploration beyond Low Earth orbit and utilize Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft design. “Insiders” speaking to Space.com also said there’s a possibility that leftover Space Shuttle-era hardware and Russian space station components could be used for the project, further bolstering the international space cooperation that we’ve been building for years on the ISS.

“Such a habitat builds clearly on the legacy of ISS — both the habitation technology and the potential for international partnerships. Doing something that clearly links back to our huge investment in ISS looks smart. Just sending multiple Orions to L1 or L2 doesn’t do that,” said Dan Lester of the University of Texas astronomy department.

But beyond the international cooperation, an L2 base would also bolster our exploration and use of the moon. A base there would allow astronauts stationed at the L2 point to launch and control robotic rovers on the moon, which would collect samples from previously unexplored locations. It would also allow us to boost communication capability by placing an antenna on the lunar surface. But even beyond that, it would represent the next generation of space exploration, a generation that could eventually land us on Mars.

Comments

  1. ALibertarian says:

    Anything that gets us back in to space is a good idea. I’d like to even a small (by professional standards) on the far side of the Moon.
    Also, most anything we can do on the ISS could be done better at L2

  2. Stuart Hammett says:

    “It would also allow us to boost communication capability by placing an antenna on the lunar surface.”

    I’m not sure what, specifically, the author is saying here, but since hearing of the NASA proposal, I’ve wondered to what extent the new station would be dependent on communication relays (via lunar surface or orbital installations) to circumvent the moon.

    An apparent advantage/disadvantage of a station at L2 which I’ve not seen otherwise discussed would be the blocking by the moon of all LOS communications with Earth. I happen to live and own a small business near the radio observatory at Green Bank, WV, USA, as well as the Sugar Grove naval communications base. Both were established here to take advantage of the relative “quiet” (in terms of electromagnetic radiation (“EMR”)) which prevails in this sparsely populated, mountainous region. To the annoyance of many residents (and near-panic of some visitors), the federal government has long maintained a sizeable “radio quiet zone” surrounding these facilities, in an effort to prevent encroachment by such EMR-emitting activities/installations as cell phone antennas.

    Critics of the continuation of these policies have noted that, since the quiet zone was established in the 1960′s, virtually the entire surface of the planet has become flooded with powerful, broadband EMR emitted by earth-orbiting satellites. It has been noted a far better location for a radio observatory, and indeed the only location which is both accessible (at least conceivably), as well as truly “quiet” in terms of artificial EMR, would be the far side of the moon.

    I’m out of time for now, but I’d love to see some discussion of this. Could an observatory on the far lunar surface or at an L2 station be to radio astronomy what Hubble and other space-based optical telescopes are to visible-spectrum astronomy?

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