NASA Details How Americans Will Return to the Moon and Go on to Mars

NASA Announces Plans for Manned Missions to the Moon, Mars
  • In a 21-page report, the space agency explains three major phases in the campaign.
  • The Deep Space Gateway, orbiting the moon, is a big part of the plans.
  • Crewed missions to Mars could begin in the 2030s.

NASA has unveiled its official strategy for returning astronauts to the moon and eventually sending crewed missions to Mars.

The 21-page National Space Exploration Campaign is NASA’s response to President Donald Trump’s directive in December 2017 to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

NASA has organized the campaign with goals of when it wants to actually figure out certain parts of the plan, according to Futurism. That way NASA can incorporate what it learns along the way.

There are three major phases to the campaign, NASA said.

Low-Earth Orbit Activities

NASA will get out of the business of launching satellites and other stuff into orbit. Instead, much of the low-earth orbit activities as they’re called will be turned over to commercial operations. Think Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. NASA will be a customer of these operations. NASA also envisions private businesses building their own space platforms or taking over the running of the International Space Station by 2025. 

An artist’s rendering imagines how the Orion space capsule would look flying by the Moon.


Back to the Moon

The plan calls for “Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s.” A key piece of the puzzle will be the Deep Space Gateway. Futurism writes that the Gateway habitat would orbit the moon and be a place to conduct experiments on the effects of prolonged space flight, send missions to the lunar surface, and prepare for much longer trips into deep space. NASA’s timeline has the Gateway in orbit by 2026.

To get all the necessary — and very heavy — equipment that far into space, NASA is building the Space Launch System, which it calls the “most powerful rocket in history.” In early flights, NASA says, the SLS will launch 77 tons into space, more than three times what the space shuttle could launch. Eventually, NASA wants the rocket to be able to launch more than 140 tons.

To get crews out there, NASA is building the Orion spacecraft, designed to carry up to four humans into deep space for up to 21 days.

NASA says the moon’s surface will become “a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

NASA space craft orbit Mars in this artist’s rendering.


On to Mars

NASA says work to get Americans to Mars is already underway. It includes “long-duration human spaceflight on the space station, development of advanced life support systems, and continuing to lead and advance the world in deep space science missions”

In June 2020, NASA plans to launch the Mars 2020 rover. Part of that mission will demonstrate how fuel and other resources needed for human flight can be produced. Another robotic mission will feature a rocket launch off of Mars. 

Human missions to the red planet are expected to start in the 2030s.


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