NASA May Scrap Plans for a Permanent Moon Base

By Eliza Strickland | April 30, 2009 1:00 pm

lunar baseNASA astronauts may not be assigned to a stint at a lunar base anytime soon. A statement by a NASA official suggested that the space agency is likely to scrap the idea of a permanent moon base, but could instead try to speed up other, more ambitious manned missions to explore our solar system.

NASA has been working towards returning astronauts to the moon by 2020 and building a permanent base there. But some space analysts and advocacy groups like the Planetary Society have urged the agency to cancel plans for a permanent moon base, carry out shorter moon missions instead, and focus on getting astronauts to Mars [New Scientist]. When the agency’s acting administrator, Chris Scolese, testified before a congressional subcommittee yesterday, he said that the agency probably won’t aim to build an outpost on the moon, suggesting that the agency may be following those advocates’ advice.

The “Vision for Space Exploration” set out by former president George W. Bush in 2004 called for sustained lunar exploration in order to test technologies, like habitation and life support systems, that would be used on a long mission to Mars. But Scolese suggested that NASA is focusing on developing “flexibility for taking humans beyond low-Earth orbit and allowing us to have options for what we can do at the moon as well as other destinations…[like] Mars or an asteroid” [New Scientist].

When congressional representatives pressed Scolese on whether the agency would retreat from its general goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020, Scolese failed to give a clear answer and suggested that exploration plans are in flux. What NASA’s plans finally include is in part dependent on the as-yet-undecided 2010 budget – due to be released as a detailed proposal this month [The Register].

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Image: NASA. This concept drawing from 1978 shows a lunar outpost. 

  • Joel Raupe

    Reports following testimony Wednesday, April 29, from NASA acting administrator Chris Scolese saying “NASA may abandon plans for moon base” are incorrect.

    Congress and the President might one day, even soon, decide to abandon the long-term national goal of setting up a manned station on the Moon, but such a change in policy did not happen, nor was it remotely hinted at, today.

    Nothing in Soclese’s testimony before a U.S. House committee was inconsistent with present law or NASA policy.

    On October 15, 2008 Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2009 NASA budget, and in the language of that legislation (H.R. 6063) was the following, now known as Public Law 110-422.

    “As NASA works toward the establishment of a lunar outpost, NASA shall make no plans that would require a lunar outpost to be occupied to maintain its viability. Any such outpost shall be operable as a human-tended facility capable of remote or autonomous operation for extended periods.”

    Reports that NASA, “instead of building a permanent lunar base, may instead send astronauts on short sorties, or excursions,” are more than a year overdue.

    This language was included in original mark-up language in the House sub-committee when the U.S. House started the ball rolling on the President’s budget request for NASA 11 months ago.

    Added in committee, passed by both House and Senate and signed by the President, this must be one of the most under-reported stories of 2008, with regard to national space policy.

    The United States formally instructed NASA to plan for an eventual Lunar outpost that could remain unmanned, for indeterminate periods of time last year, just as Scolese alluded to in his testimony April 29.

    Only writers living outside the context of present long-term space policy could accuse Scolese or NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Doug Cooke, of providing “vague answers” to questions from congressional committee Members.

    Further, nothing in this section of NASA’s budget (federal law, 42 U.S. Code 17732) was later changed in President Barack Obama’s supplemental “stimulus” budget package (Public Law 111-5) signed into law February 5.

    The clarifying changes made to NASA’s long-term manned exploration strategy last year, eliminating design planning for a permanently manned lunar outpost appears to be one of the most fundamentally under-reported stories of 2008.

    For example, almost nowhere will you find the following, which like the sentence above, also appeared in the earliest mark-ups of this year’s operating budget for NASA:

    (b) DESIGNATION.—The United States portion of the first human-tended outpost established on the surface of the Moon shall be designated the ‘‘Neil A. Armstrong Lunar Outpost’’.

    Or the following, understood in context and as context, could explain some of awards NASA made in support of ISS re-supply missions a few weeks later:

    (c) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that NASA should make use of commercial services to the maximum extent practicable in support of its lunar outpost activities.

    Reporters who want to decypher happenings within NASA should remember, under the law, the agency is very much “a creature of Congress.” Presidents come and go, but Congress has the power of the purse, most especially the U.S. House of Representatives, where all spending plans must begin.

  • Tom

    Was anything George Bush ever proposed worth it?
    The ISS and the Moon and the Mars mission, heck, nearly everything depended on the Space Shuttle which is being decommissioned without a shuttle like replacement.

    Until there is a shuttle replacement, then we are in effect limited to unmanned missions and manned missions to the ISS.

    There can be no mission to Mars until we solve the radiation problems outside the earths magnetosphere…and the best place to do that are trips to the moon and moon habitation.

    and final word…the US better figure out how to deal with a moon-base or another space faring nation is going to claim ownership and get a moonbase before we do.

  • http://yahoo Mal

    What about the mining of the moon for he-3 to fuel fission reactors ..? I thought that this would be financially as well as environmentally beneficial .

  • chris

    I don’t know, the Moon seems like a great place to create a base to me.

    I mean eventually we’re going to want to create ships outside of the Earth. Perhaps large ones that would require feats of engineering to launch on Earth, would be much simpler to lauch from the moon.

    The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere or a large amount of orbiting garbage, but also has a much weaker gravity.

    But I suppose before you go that far in concepts it’d be better to find economical and environmentally responsible methods of getting payloads into space.

  • http://none superman_1969

    I don’t think one filthy human being should be allowed off this planet until we repair the damage we have done to her. For instance the air and water we have made toxic, or our poisoned and nutritionally depleted food, and our pathologic desire to exterminate our ecosystem of plants and animals. And worst of all, our determination to perpetuate a world culture based on war and death, instead of peace and life. Or how about this, we can’t go anywhere until we clean up the debris field we have created with our machines orbiting this world. Y’all can’t wait to destroy the next place before you finish destroying this one. I hope and pray somethign or someone stops us before we have a chance to extend our violence and destruction beyond this poor, helpless, and dying earth.

  • Nick

    Skip the moon – go to Mars? A permanent base on the moon doesn’t seem like a logical step to going to Mars? That’s like sending my son to take some climbing lessons, and then dropping him off in front of Mount Everest. How many probes have we sent there? One survived, and worked most of the time. Now we’re going to send people? You have got to be joking.

  • http://none superman_1969

    Oh by the way MAL, you’re not even getting solar let alone fusion. The oil gas and coal mongers will continue to pay politicians many millions to “not make legislation” which would benefit us all. Look at the full page ads in Discover and SciAm for these fuels. They tell how they will be bringing us our (their) energy for this whole century, that’s one hundred years MAL. Or can’t you count?

  • shawn g

    First take care of the planet earth and then think about moving or creating bases

  • Frank Glover

    “What about the mining of the moon for he-3 to fuel fission reactors ..? I thought that this would be financially as well as environmentally beneficial .”

    There are many good reasons for permanent human presence on the Moon, but that one won’t mean anything until commercial fusion plants using He3 actually exist. Until then, there is no signifigant market for the stuff…

    “I don’t think one filthy human being should be allowed off this planet until we repair the damage we have done to her.”

    Personally, I always bathe before flying…

    Yes, if we must wait for that mythical day when ‘all our problems on Earth have been solved,’ then it’s true that we will never go anywhere. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to have the unanimous permission of every human on Earth, in order to go anyway.

    “I hope and pray somethign or someone stops us before we have a chance to extend our violence and destruction beyond this poor, helpless, and dying earth.”

    And go to worlds that (with one or two possible exceptions in this solar system) have always been dead? ‘Destroying’ the Moon biologically, was done by nature long ago.

    Any ‘someone or something’ that could stop us, may not be very benign either. Be careful what you wish for…

  • Chance

    There are so many of you I want to reply to…

    Superman – Just because human existence has caused great destruction to Earth, you’re forgetting, we had to get to the industrial age to get to the environmental (or green) age. Our planet is going to be just fine. Exploring space and colonizing other planets helps our technology get to a point that we can stop emitting harmful chemicals, stripping the ground of goodies, etc…all of this was ALWAYS going to happen. “We” didn’t do this to the planet. The planet did it to it self. We are just as much a part of this earth as those trees are. If we didn’t start chopping them down, we’d be living in trees! lol. Though I do agree, we need to start cleaning up now, but I don’t think we should let that keep us from moving past Earth.

    Frank – It only takes a few years for a prototype reactor to be turned into a commercial size one. I know at the University of Chicago or something there is a prototype of this type of reactor. And to say there is no need to mine for he3 when we don’t have a use for it yet is pretty short-sighted. If we don’t start stockpiling it, other countries will have it all and we’ll be buying it from them, driving up our debt.

    Exploration is something that has driven our race to where it is. Without exploration, we are doomed to become extinct. And I for one do not prefer that over humans “trashing” up another planet!

  • Jesus

    If we do scrap this project, can scrap the rest of the space program for inner system exploration. Reason: We are heading into a time of a resource deplition. Without a focused program that has been actively working toward interplanetary travel within the next ten years, there will be no hope for further human advancement in space since we will be busy focused on immediate survival needs instead as a species.

  • Marcos Passarello

    My propose is apply risk Management for the point that for me NASA must work hardly , that it is the “He3 in the moon” , The university of Wisconsin Made some technical papers , that i take for develop that i thing is “Priority” , work in a Risk Management procedure for life in the moon (Complete).I attach the procedure , see it and i would like to apply it to Next step for men , “life in the moon”.

    Thank you very much

    Marcos Passarello


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