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A one-way ticket to the moon

2-26-2019

George Kharchilava, Staff Writer

Fifty years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA has finally unveiled their plans to send human beings back to the Moon. Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine made a statement, “This time, when we go to the moon we're going to stay. So, we're not going back to the moon to leave flags and footprints and then not go back for another fifty years. We're going to go sustainably. To stay. With landers and robots and rovers — and humans."

But how will this mission get off the ground? The answer lies in the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a proposed orbital space station around the Moon. NASA, however, will not work on this alone. On September 2017, NASA and Roscosmos (The Russian Space Agency) signed a joint agreement to explore the lunar surface via the Deep Space Gateway. NASA has also called upon commercial space companies (such as SpaceX and Boeing) to assist in developing lunar landers and refueling systems. Companies have until March 25 to submit their ideas, which will be chosen by NASA in May. Contracts of up to $9 million could be issues for follow up studies during the summer. "This is going to be fast. We're going to need the best and brightest from you in industry. We're going to need the best and brightest from the international partner community to pull all this off" said NASA’s associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations, William Gerstenmaier.

But why is a lunar space station so important? It all comes down to efficiency. Launching people and equipment from Earth can be very expensive, even with advancements in rocket reusability. However, launching rockets from lunar soil can cut the price drastically, as the Moon has approximately one sixth the gravity of Earth. It would require a lot less fuel to launch rockets on the Moon. Having an orbiting space station around the moon can pave the way for future outposts on the Moon where rockets can be launched from. If this program were to come to fruition, it can also serve as an outpost for missions that go deeper into space. These would be similar to the first colonies in the New World setting up outposts and small towns for future journeys.

The primary vehicle that will be used for this mission will be NASA’s newest mega-rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is set to launch in 2020, just four years before Vice President Mike Pence called for humans to set foot on the Moon again. Unfortunately, this rocket does not seem to follow the trend of reusability. SpaceX’s Starship is said to be far more powerful and far cheaper because of its full reusability and multiple applications. Only time will tell whether Nasa goes through with their Space launch System or scrap the idea and go with what is thought to be the cheaper alternative. Despite whether one rocket is better than the other, it is exciting to see this international and bipartisan cooperation to send humans back to the Moon. Instead this time, were going back in peace instead of at war.