Nasa unveils plans for moon station

Nasa, the US space agency, has given the first details of its plans to set up a permanent human settlement on the moon by 2024, as the first part of a scheme for manned exploration of Mars and beyond in the solar system.

The project, first outlined by President George Bush almost three years ago in a speech outlining America's space ambitions, would return a man to the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission of December 1972. That stay lasted just three days.

Under the new programme, beginning in 2020, astronauts would make stays of a week. These would be gradually lengthened, so that within four years the base would be permanently manned, with astronauts living on the base for six-month stretches.

The chosen site will be at or near one of the moon's poles, probably the south pole, because of the long periods of sunlight those regions enjoy.

That would permit solar power generation, and the production of electricity, in keeping with Nasa's aim of "living off the land". The south pole has a special attraction: the suspected nearby presence of key elements, most notably helium-3, a lighter form of the gas that can be used for nuclear power. There have also been some signs that deep craters could contain ice, which would provide water and fuel.

The moon base, said Scott Horowitz, NASA's director of lunar exploration, "will be a central theme in our plan for going back to the moon, in preparation to go to Mars and beyond". He added that agency scientists knew less about the lunar poles than they did about Mars, although the moon was only 250,000 miles from Earth.

The rockets and landing capsules - the Ares I and Orion programmes - which will ferry astronauts back and forth will be exclusively American, Nasa said. But the agency wants to bring in other countries, including Britain, India, Russia and China, as well as the European Space Agency. The key question, unanswered by Nasa officials this week, is how much the base might cost. Unofficial estimates put the price tag at around $100bn (£50.8bn), compared with Nasa's present annual budget of $18bn.

But costs will be spread over two decades, and the agency hopes to offset part of the bill by attracting private sector investment. The total cost of sending a man to Mars will be far higher however, at least $600bn (£304bn).

The US also appears determined to avoid the problems that have plagued the still uncompleted international space station, by bringing other countries into the process at an early stage. Contacts with key partners have already been made, and a conference is scheduled for early 2007.

Nasa claims the end of the Shuttle programme in 2010, and the winding-down of the space station, mean that the lunar base can be funded within existing budget ceilings. But critics dispute that, arguing that less high-profile but highly valuable scientific programmes will have to be scaled back, if the agency is to avoid going cap in hand to Congress for extra money.

The programme appears to have broad support on Capitol Hill, even with Democrats in charge from next month. The hope is that the public interest in space will be rekindled by the prospect of men actually living on the moon.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing