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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam