NASA aims for moon space station for live-in astronauts in next 10 years

The "gateway" would linger in lunar orbit, making long-term missions feasible.

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Sean Keane
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The moon, as seen from space.

NASA is looking into various ways to head back to the moon, seen here in a shot by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.


NASA is reportedly planning to place a small space station in the moon's orbit by the mid-2020s.

The "Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway" facility would make regular manned missions to the moon more feasible, USA Today reports, as more private sector companies get into the business of sending stuff into space.

"What happened to the commercial launch industry is about to happen to the commercial lunar industry," Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, told the paper. "I think there are very strong analogies between the two."

Moon Express was founded in 2010, with the goal of scouting and mining the moon for resources. It's been working to lower the cost of robotic lunar missions, but Richards reckons humans will be able to stay on the moon in the coming years.

Watch this: NASA's moon rover will mine for water in the dark

The renewed push toward our lunar neighbor coincides with President Donald Trump's December 2017 directive pushing NASA to send astronauts back to the moon, which hasn't seen a manned American mission since 1972's Apollo 17. This was a shift from the Obama administration's focus on sending people to Mars.

The space agency's Gateway "will support exploration on and near the Moon, and beyond, including Mars," it says.

NASA is working with companies like Moon Express on plans to fly robotic landers carrying scientific instruments to the moon, as early as 2019.

The planned NASA space station wouldn't be able to send astronauts to the moon's surface without a lander supplied by commercial or international partners, USA Today notes, but companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin could help them out.

Memorable moon photos from NASA and beyond (pictures)

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"We believe partnering with US industry for the power and propulsion element will stimulate advancements in commercial use of solar electric propulsion and also serve NASA exploration objectives," said Michele Gates, director of Gateway's power and propulsion element. 

"Our goal here is to gain input from industry on the draft solicitation to enable release of the final later this summer."

The recent discovery of water sources on the moon would also make supplying a space station easier. In May, Bezos laid out his plan to set up a moon base -- with or without NASA's help.

Last week, Israel announced its intention to land a mission on the moon with the help of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Friday will mark the 49th anniversary of mankind's giant leap, when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon in 1969.

First published July 19 at 7:51 a.m. PT.
Update at 8:30 a.m. PT, July 20: Adds comment from NASA.

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