Astronauts are on track to live and work on the moon before the end of the decade, according to a POT official.
Howard Hu, head of the US agency’s Orion lunar spacecraft program, said humans could be active on the moon for “durations” before 2030, with habitats to live in and rovers to support their work.
“Certainly in this decade, we are going to have people living for periods, depending on how long we are on the surface. They will have habitats, they will have rovers on the ground,” she told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme. “We are going to send people to the surface, and they are going to live on that surface and do science,” she added.
Hu was put in charge of NASA’s spacecraft for deep space exploration in February, and spoke on Sunday as the 98-meter (322-foot) Artemis rocket rocketed toward the moon on its first unmanned mission.
The giant rocket, which is topped by the Orion spacecraft, launched Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida after a series of delays due to technical glitches and hurricanes.
The spacecraft carries three fully equipped dummies, which will record the stresses and strains of the Artemis 1 mission. The rocket is now some 83,000 miles (134,000 km) from the moon.
“It is the first step we are taking for long-term deep space exploration, not just for the United States but for the world. I think this is a historic day for NASA, but it is also a historic day for all the people who love human spaceflight and deep space exploration,” Hu said.
“We will go back to the moon. We are working on a sustainable program and this is the vehicle that will carry the people that will take us to the moon again,” she added.
The spacecraft will fly within 60 miles of the moon and continue for another 40,000 miles before turning around and aiming to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11. The spacecraft will travel 1.3 million miles on the 25-day mission, the farthest a spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
Upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will travel at about 25,000 mph, raising the temperature of its heat shield to approximately 2,800 °C (5,000 °F). It is expected to splash down off the coast of San Diego.
A successful mission will pave the way for the Artemis 2 and 3 follow-on flights, both of which would send humans around the moon and back. The Artemis 3 mission, which won’t launch until 2026, is expected to return humans to the moon’s surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in December 1972. According to NASA plans, that mission would lead to the first woman to the moon, with a subsequent visit that landed the first person of color on the lunar surface.
The Artemis program, named after the twin sister of Apollo, also plans to build the Lunar Gateway, a space station where astronauts will live and work while orbiting the moon. “Going forward is really to Mars,” Hu told the BBC. “That’s a bigger springboard, a two-year journey, so it’s going to be very important to learn beyond our Earth orbit.”