Just days before a joint U.S.-Russia spaceflight, NASA officials Dec. 4 announced plans to build a space station on the moon.
The lunar outpost would be a staging point for a journey to Mars and enable NASA to conduct a wide range of scientific investigations, officials said.
Missions to the moon for the project are expected to begin by 2020, NASA Spokesman Michael J. Braukus said on Dec. 5. As of now, he added, there are no firm figures on costs or how long the base will take to build.
Plans for the base were born from discussions of the Global Exploration Strategy, a congressionally-mandated effort to establish goals for the agencys return to the moon that has teamed more than 1,000 individuals from the private and public sector, including experts from NASA and 13 other space agencies other nations.
"This strategy will enable interested nations to leverage their capabilities and financial and technical contributions, making optimum use of globally available knowledge and resources to help energize a coordinated effort that will propel us into this new age of discovery and exploration," said NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale in a prepared statement.
NASAs Lunar Architecture Team, created in May to discuss ways scientists can best accomplish the exploration of the moon, concluded that the most advantageous approach is to develop a solar-powered base and locate it near one of the poles of the moon.
"The architecture work has resulted in an understanding of what is required to implement and enable critical exploration objectives," said Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator, Exploration Systems Directorate in the same statement.
"This is all important as we continue the process we have begun and better define the architecture and our various exploration roles in what is a very exciting future for the United States and the world."
NASA planners envision an incremental buildup beginning with four-person crews, making several seven-day visits to the moon until their power supplies, rovers and living quarters are ready. Afterwards, there would be 180-day missions to prepare for journeys to Mars.
NASA officials said they will continue to refine their plans in 2007 and maintain the open dialogue initiated this year.