It’s been a while since NASA sent astronauts to the Moon – more than four decades, in fact. But that doesn’t mean NASA doesn’t want to continue exploring the lunar surface; instead, future lunar visitation plans would become the unfortunate victim of circumstance, succumbing to budget constraints and objective prioritization.
Despite the long hiatus, NASA finally seems ready to revive lunar exploration in as little as a decade. The National Space Exploration Campaign calls for complex deep-space missions that could start launching as early as 2020; but more importantly, the Moon could play a substantial role in this campaign.
This campaign would kick off with Exploration Mission 1, an un-crewed mission intended to demonstrate modern space transportation technology. It would then be closely followed by a crewed mission to fly past the Moon, and eventually another mission that would land on the Moon. These missions could subsequently lead to the construction of a secondary lunar-orbiting space station, which could act as a space-centric laboratory and docking station for future deep space missions.
NASA’s primary goal for the foreseeable future is to have astronauts exploring deep space, but the Moon would serve as an excellent testing ground for many of the technological advances that could eventually lead to crewed Martian missions and beyond. It should be interesting to see how everything unfolds.