Giant Steps: Are we heading for more footsteps on the moon?

Man hasn't set foot on it for decades but Nasa is now confident that a moonbase could be operational by 2020, leading to the manned exploration of Mars. Steve Connor reports

Rocket scientists at Nasa have identified the lunar south pole as the best probable landing site for the next manned mission to the Moon. They believe it is a prime location to build a permanent lunar base because some of its deep craters may harbour frozen reserves of valuable water.

Nasa, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is developing a plan to send people back to the Moon half a century after it was first visited by Apollo astronauts.

Only this time Nasa intends to stay on the Moon by building a lunar base permanently manned by astronauts who will help prepare the groundwork for an even more ambitious manned mission to Mars.

Nasa is keen to act on the directions of President George Bush who said in January 2004 it was time for the US to return to the Moon, set up a permanent outpost and even use it as a launch pad to send man to Mars.

But the key to a permanent base is water, not just because it can sustain life but also because it can be split into its constituent parts - hydrogen and oxygen - for use as rocket fuel.

Nasa announced this month it will explore the lunar south pole with an extra module or satellite it has decided to add to its 2008 exploratory mission to the Moon, the first to involve a new rocket system. The extra payload or satellite is designed to analyse the plume of material caused by a high-speed impact into a south-pole crater. Some craters are so deep they are in permanent shadow which means if any ice from a passing comet fell into them, it would not have melted or vaporised.

Nasa said the extra craft will be designed to direct the used upper stage of a lunar rocket so that it crashes into a crater. The satellite will then observe the plume and even fly through it several times with instruments designed to detect and analyse trace amounts of water.

Then the satellite will itself become an impactor, creating a second plume visible to a lunar-orbiting spacecraft and observatories on Earth which could analyse the ejected material for water, explained Scott Horowitz, a Nasa scientist.

"This type of payload is not new to Nasa. We are taking advantage of the payload capability of the launch vehicle to conduct additional high-risk, high-pay-off science," he said.

The 2008 mission to the Moon will be the first of many robot missions that will culminate in a manned lunar landing between 2018 and 2020, the first since Apollo 17 in 1972.

"Apollo was restricted to landing sites along the Moon's equator. Our new systems let us land anywhere on the Moon's surface," a Nasa spokesman said.

"Scientists consider the lunar south pole a good landing site because researchers believe that the area has elevated quantities of hydrogen and possibly water ice that can be used in a habitat environment."

Nasa is developing a new generation of space vehicles from the best features of the heavy-lift engines used in the Apollo programme - notably the giant Saturn V rockets - and the reusable elements of the Shuttle, which is due to be retired by 2010.

At the heart of the new concept is a manned capsule much like the one that took the Apollo crew to the Moon, only this time it will be three times as spacious and be capable of carrying a crew of six rather than three.

The capsule is designed to orbit the Moon automatically without a crew while its lander vehicle carries the astronauts to the lunar surface.

Initially, missions on the surface will last four to seven days but once a lunar outpost is established, the astronauts could stay on the Moon for six months.

The crew capsule is designed to be reused 10 times and Nasa is incorporating an escape rocket on its nose so that astronauts will be ejected to safety if a problem develops on the launch pad.

Nasa is also planning to have a manned version of the rocket - called the Crew Launch Vehicle - ready in five years to ferry people and supplies to the International Space Station. A separate, heavy-lift version of the system - the Cargo Launch Vehicle - will take up to 125 tons of supplies and material to the Moon to build a permanent base.

"With a minimum of two lunar missions a year, momentum will build quickly toward a permanent outpost," Nasa said. "Crews will stay longer and learn to exploit the Moon's resources, while landers make one-way trips to deliver cargo. "A sustained presence will show we can survive on another world by living off the land and will build confidence that we can venture still farther and stay for longer periods."

Mission to the moon

1 A heavy-lift Cargo Launch Vehicle blasts off from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida carrying a lunar lander and a "departure stage", needed to propel the crew beyond the Earth's orbit.

2 Once the Cargo Launch Vehicle is safely in orbit, the crew will be launched separately in the smaller Crew Launch Vehicle which has extra safety features.

3 The two vehicles dock and, once the "departure stage" is connected, the crew and their capsule are propelled out of the Earth's orbit and on to the Moon.

4 Three days later, the crew go into lunar orbit, having safely ejected the "departure stage" rockets. The crew climb into the lunar landing vehicle which is jettisoned down to the surface of the Moon.

5 Once their lunar mission is complete, the crew blast off from the landing vehicle, carried by an ascent capsule that takes them back to the orbiting lunar module. Once safely aboard, the capsule takes them back to Earth.

6 The capsule lands over water or lands on Earth with the help of parachutes. Its heat shield can be replaced and the capsule reused up to 10 times.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
News
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
people
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Accounts Assistant, Hammersmith

£25000 per annum: Charter Selection: Exciting sports company with a strong bra...

Technical Support Engineer - Central London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Central London...

SharePoint/C# Developer - Aberdeen - Circa £40K + benefits

£30000 - £40000 per annum + excellent benefits: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited:...

IT Manager - Devon - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Systems - D...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil