NASA’s Artemis program aims to bring humans back to the Moon, with the goal of staying there for good in the interest of pursuing additional science and exploration missions, including to Mars. But how will the agency actually make it possible for people to remain on the Moon for longer-term science missions? NASA has provided some more detail about its plans with a sustainability concept it released describing some core components of the infrastructure it plans to put in place on the lunar surface.
NASA’s plans focus on three key elements that would enable sustained presence and research work on the Moon’s surface, including:
A lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) that would be used by crew to get around on the Moon. Essentially, this is a rover but that is piloted instead of being robotic. This wouldn’t have an enclosed cockpit, so astronauts would be wearing full protective extra-vehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits while using it for short trips.
A habitable mobility platform, which would be a larger rover that is fully contained and pressurized, enabling longer trips further afield from the spacecraft landing site of up to 45 days at a time.
A lunar foundation surface habitat that could act as a more permanent, fixed location home for crew during shorter stays on the surface. this could house up to four astronauts at once, though the habitable mobility platform would be the primary active residence for surface missions, while the Gateway space station orbiting the Moon would be the main base of operations for crew not engaged in active surface exploration and science.
Like the International Space Station before it, the Gateway is designed to be scaled up over time, with new models attached to add more crew habitation capabilities, as well as additional work and experimentation space. This will be important as it becomes the jumping off point not just for Moon surface missions, but also as a way station for exploration of Mars and beyond.
NASA also says that robotic rovers will be a key component of its Moon infrastructure, to be used for purpose including gathering data and materials for research, as well as helping to spur along the development of production of key resources for sustained presence, like water, fuel and oxygen.
The agency also includes some details about its Mars plans, including how it will send a four-person crew to the Gateway for a “multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars.” If it goes ahead as planned, this would be longest continuous human stay in deep space environs, and a key step in understanding how a human trip to Mars would work.
The full NASA “Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development” is available here for more granular detail on the broad outline listed above. Artemis and its timelines are bound to feel the impact of the global coronavirus crisis, but the goals of the program aren’t likely to change too much, even if the targets for accomplishing them do.