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.