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.

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
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
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

Credit Controller (Sales Ledger, SAGE)- London, Old Street

£12 per hour: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street A well es...

Y4 Teacher - Leicester

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: We are currently recruiting ...

VMware Infrastructure Engineer - (VCP, VMware) - £45k, London

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Infrastructure Engineer, VMware (VCP, NetApp,...

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor