NASA is to build a permanently occupied base on the moon, most likely at the lunar north pole.
The habitat will serve as a science outpost as well as a testbed for technologies needed for future travel to Mars, and construction will follow a series of flights to the moon scheduled to begin by 2020.
“We’re going for a base on the moon,” Scott “Doc” Horowitz, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration, told reporters in a teleconference from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
Plans for what the base will look like and what astronauts would do there have yet to be determined. Similarly, NASA has not projected a date when the base would go into operation.
The moon’s polar sites are preferred to equatorial regions because of more moderate temperatures and longer periods of sunlight, which is critical for the solar-powered electrical systems NASA plans to develop. Eventually, nuclear power may be used to augment or replace the solar energy systems.
Scientists also suspect the poles have resources such as hydrogen, ice and other materials that could be used for life support.
“It’s exciting,” said NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale.