In 2021 – or perhaps as early as August 2019 – a crew of up to four astronauts will cross the 240,000-mile gulf between Earth and the Moon for the first time in almost five decades. Image Credit: NASA

New Manned Lunar Missions To Be Outlined By NASA Soon?

By Ben Evans

With less than a month to go before the 40th anniversary of humanity’s last foray to the Moon, the indications are growing stronger that we may return there in the early part of the next decade. Already, NASA plans an uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) atop its first Space Launch System (SLS) booster – with launch currently targeted for December 2017 – to send an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) on a seven-to-ten-day voyage around the far side of our closest celestial neighbor. This will be followed by EM-2, scheduled for 2021, but with some scope to move to the left, which NASA sources have revealed will carry as many as four astronauts to the Moon. The precise objectives of EM-2 remain unclear and have aroused criticism and praise in equal measure, but may suggest a shift in policy from the Obama Administration’s earlier desire to avoid human lunar exploration in favor of missions to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by the mid-2030s.

It is no coincidence that the expected NASA announcement on Beyond Earth Orbit exploration will emerge within weeks or even days of President Obama’s re-election to a second term in office. Yet whichever candidate had succeeded in the contest for the White House – Obama or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney – was not expected to drastically alter the space agency’s fortunes. Two years ago, Obama stubbornly refused to consider a human return to the Moon and his infamously short-sighted summary, “We’ve been there before”, spoken whilst standing with Buzz Aldrin, continues to echo in many ears and continues to cause more than a few toes to curl and teeth to grind.

Recently, in September, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver told a press conference that the agency had submitted “a comprehensive report” to Congress, with clear outlines of future Beyond Earth Orbit destinations, featuring not only asteroids and Mars, but also a peculiar spot in space known as the ‘Earth-Moon Libration Point-2’ (EML-2’). Libration points – also known as ‘Lagrangian Points’, named in honor of the 18th-century French-Italian astronomer and mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange – are regions in space where the combined gravitational pull of two large masses roughly balance one another out. This enables spacecraft to effectively ‘park’ there. To reach EML-2, a spacecraft would need to travel to a position approximately 37,000 miles beyond the Moon and the potential benefits include the provision of a communications station covering the lunar far side or a unique location for an astronomical telescope…or, as Boeing proposed late last year, for the emplacement of a ‘propellant depot’ for future deep-space exploration.

Read more: New Manned Lunar Missions To Be Outlined By NASA Soon? « AmericaSpace.

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