For the first time since 1972, NASA is planning to go back to the Moon. According to the European Space Agency, two trips are being planned, with the first one an unmanned mission in 2017. Assuming that one is successful, the first manned mission to the Moon since Apollo 17 will take place in 2019.
The European Space Agency is currently developing an Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle for deep space exploration for NASA. The module is based on the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle, a drone built to haul cargo to the International Space Station. It’s believed that NASA would use the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle for these two lunar missions.
Why is NASA looking to the ESA for a space module? Apparently it’s to save money and cut costs. For the first time in NASA history, the space agency is looking outside of the US to “develop a critical technology for a manned space flight program.” NASA had been working with contractor Lockheed Martin to design an Orion service module, but they halted those plans when the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle proved it could be repurposed for NASA’s needs.
NASA is looking to develop a mission to the Moon to help determine the feasibility and challenges of a longer mission to Mars. They want to test their still-in-development Space Launch System, which has the capabilities to travel to Mars, on a mission to the Moon first.
NASA has to get the ball rolling on a manned mission to Mars if they want to be the first to the Red Planet. Private Space Exploration Company SpaceX has ambitious plans in development to start colonizing Mars with pioneers. Maybe NASA and SpaceX should partner with each other to accomplish this goal. Mars or bust in 2020!