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Tue, Dec 05, 2006

NASA Not Just Aiming For The Moon... It Plans To Stay There

Agency Announces Plan For Lunar Base By 2020

It's no secret NASA plans to return to the moon sometime in the next decade... but what it plans to do there is VERY interesting. Officials with the space agency announced Monday they plan to establish a base on the moon by 2020... with the eventual goal of sustaining a permanent human presence on the lunar surface.

USA Today reports NASA's moon colonization plans would begin in 2020, with four-man crews staying on the lunar surface at week-long intervals. By contrast, the crew onboard the longest Apollo lunar mission, Apollo 17 (also the last moon mission to date), stayed for three days.

By 2024, the agency hopes, astronauts would live on a moon base for six months at a time.

"We're looking at this more permanent capability that will allow longer stays and a lot of achievements," said Doug Cooke, NASA's deputy chief of exploration.

NASA is looking at locating the base along the moon's south pole, where ample sunlight would provide power to the base. That pole also has several deep craters that may hold ice -- which could provide water for a moonbase crew, as well as fuel.

The biggest question isn't how NASA would implement its ambitious plans... but how the agency plans to pay for it. NASA is already strapped finacially in its $100 billions plan to return to the moon, most of which is tied up in the development of the Constellation program. The agency is also paying a high price to sustain the International Space Station, and keep the space shuttle operating through 2010.

Deputy NASA administrator Shana Dale stressed the costs of building a moon colony would not require an increase in NASA's $17 billion annual budget. In fact, part of the money would come from the retirement of the space shuttle.

Former NASA historian David Portree says a moon base would help NASA refine its plans to reach out further into the solar system -- in particular, Mars. He cautioned, however, against the agency reaching too far with its goals.

"Running a base is going to be very expensive," Portree said. "It's going to make running a space station look cheap."



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