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Interim Administrator Scolese Suggests NASA Reconsidering Moon Outpost? April 29, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in NASA.
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The New Scientist reports today some comments from current interim NASA administrator Chris Scolese to the congressional Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that suggest NASA may be reconsidering having an outright moon base:

“”We were looking at an outpost on the moon, as the basis for that [2020] estimate and that one is being revisited,” he said. “It will probably be less than an outpost on the moon, but where it fits between sorties, single trips, to the moon to various parts and an outpost is really going to be dependent on the studies that we’re going to be doing.”” Chris Scolese, Deputy Administrator and current Interim Administrator of NASA, as reported by the New Scientist

The New Scientist article’s headline is “NASA may abandon plans for moon base”, which I think is a bit strong—while Scolese’s comments do certainly suggest that NASA is at least considering that other lunar options may make more sense, full-scale ‘abandonment’ of lunar plans does not seem to be in order.

A main motivation for actual habitation is to prepare for Mars, where astronauts would have to reside for months before having a return opening. If NASA feels that they can accomplish Mars-planning and other scientific goals on the Moon without actually residing there, then an actual outpost might prove unnecessary. The private sector is certainly growing in regards to the Moon, so for longer-term commercial goals like helium-3 (that countries like China have been more outward about), it may end up being needlessly cost-prohibitive for NASA to build themselves, when there could be lots of private lunar homesteading (if you will) already underway.

It may also be just a departure from the current timeframe—Scolese’s comments note the ‘2020 estimate’ being revisited. NASA’s lunar plans were comparatively ahead of the curve (countries like China and Japan have been estimated at ~2030 for lunar bases), so even if an outpost is not included in the 2020-2025 timeframe of lunar missions, building an outpost later–while less ambitious and trailblazing— would still be competitive with other nations. And competition might not enter into the equation in the end, anyways: an international lunar outpost, much like the ISS, could make more sense regardless.

For some great details on the lunar studies NASA has been looking at as of late, check out the presentations from the Lunar Surface Systems Workshop in February (and my ongoing coverage of that).

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