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NASA Leaders Discuss Agency's Lunar Exploration Plans

Earth-rise on the lunar surface. Photo: NASA
Earth-rise on the lunar surface. Photo: NASA

NASA’s new administrator is directing the agency on a return to the moon. At a conference in Orlando, program leaders gave an update on the agency’s lunar plans.

At the AIAA Space conference Wednesday, NASA leaders presented an update on the agency’s Lunar Gateway plans.

The Lunar Gateway is a space station that would orbit around the moon, and provide a work space for visiting astronauts and robots working on the station and on the lunar surface. Like the International Space Station, the gateway would be built with international and commercial partners.

The plan is a lot different than the last missions to the moon back in the 1960s and 1970s, "The entire [Apollo] system was optimized to plant a flag, get some rocks and come back," said John Guidi, deputy director with NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "We’re going back for a completely different reason and we have to look at it a bit differently."

The Lunar Gateway will help scientists uncover secrets of the moon, like what’s below the surface around the poles, and help humans prepare for deep space missions to places like Mars.

"It provides opportunities for science and commercial opportunities that would not be available if we were just going straight to the surface," said NASA's associate administrator Stephen Jurczyk.

NASA plans to launch small robotic landers to the surface of the moon as early as 2019, followed by the first pieces of the Lunar Gateway in the early 2020s. After studying the moon and how humans work in deep space, NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to Central Florida in 2005 to attend the University of Central Florida. He began working at WMFE as a college intern where he discovered his love for public radio.