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NASA Might Build a Deep Space Outpost Near the Moon

NASA’s dreams of a moon base may still be far from reality, but a deep-space outpost near the far side of the moon could be an intermediate step toward further space exploration.

A recent NASA memo explores the possibility of building a human-tended, deep space outpost near Earth-moon libration point 2 (EML-2), a place where Earth and the moon’s gravitational pulls cancel each other out.

Such a station could be a gateway for exploring the moon, asteroids and Mars, allowing robotic spacecraft to venture far into space and providing supplies for space vehicles, NASA says. It would require astronauts traveling farther into space than in the Apollo missions, and staying there for longer than ever before.

The plan also requires “significant international participation” and “U.S. commercial business opportunities to further enhance the space station logistics market.” Furthermore, NASA would like to see “multiuse or reusable in-space infrastructure that allows a capability to be developed and reused over time for a variety of exploration destinations.”

In other words, NASA expects space exploration to become a joint project between all interested parties, with some standards put in place, making further endeavors cheaper and easier.

This route, however, is not set in stone. In its recently published Global Exploration Roadmap, NASA looks into several possible scenarios for space exploration in the next 25 years, and a deep space outpost in EML-2 is just one possible option.

Hence, NASA has assigned a study team with the task of developing possible near-term missions to EML-2 by March 30. The results of the study will hopefully shed more light on the viability of EML-2 missions and shape the future of space exploration.


Check out some of our favorite space-related stories from 2011, in the slideshow below.


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When Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center just before dawn on July 21, 2011, it marked the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. The shuttle was the space agency’s No. 1 space vehicle for 30 years, with numerous successes under its belt — notably the deployment and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and construction of the International Space Station.

The shuttles themselves, however, were notoriously more complex and expensive than they were ever intended to be. They also unfortunately suffered from reliability issues, leading to the tragic destruction of two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia.

Despite its issues, the shuttle continued to serve well past its sell-by date, becoming a pop-culture icon along the way. In its last year of operation, the shuttle also finished one of its key tasks: complete assembly of the International Space Station. It’s certainly earned its retirement, which the orbiters spend in numerous museums throughout the country.


As NASA was saying goodnight to the space shuttle, private enterprise was rising to fill the niche. Given the extreme cost of launching anything into orbit and NASA’s budget woes, the space agency has been extremely supportive of many private efforts, awarding $269.3 million the past year to companies such as Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and SpaceX (aka Space Exploration Technologies) to speed up development programs for launch vehicles and spacecraft.

SpaceX’s vision of space travel is bold. With its reusable Dragon spacecraft, it plans to take over supply missions to the International Space Station starting in February 2012, and CEO Elon Musk has said the company will enable humans to set foot on Mars within 10 years.

The industry of space tourism is also taking steps toward reality. The primary spacecraft of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic completed its first solo flight in October, with plans to begin ferrying passengers into space in 2013.


The year kicked off with the promising discovery of the smallest exoplanet (planets outside our solar system) yet: Kepler-10b. The rocky planet, 560 light-years away, was about 1.4 times the size of Earth. It was also very close to its star, with a surface temperature estimated at 2,500 degrees — much too hot to support life.

That’s why Dec. 5 the discovery of Kepler-22b, 600 light-years away, was far more exciting. Although twice the size of the Earth, the so-called Christmas Planet is right in the “goldilocks zone” — a distance from its star that would make it neither too hot or too cold to support life. With the revelation of two more Earth-size planets a couple of weeks later, we could be on the cusp an exoplanet-discovery bonanza.


With the space shuttle grabbing most of the attention this year, it was almost overlooked that during the final mission of Discovery, the assembly of the International Space Station was essentially finished. NASA says the shuttle’s delivery of the “Permanent Multipurpose Module” was its last contribution to the structure.

The ISS was originally planned to cease operations in 2013, but that was extended to 2020, when it’s planned to crash into the ocean. NASA and others are now working to get that pushed out to 2028.


Despite a botched initial deployment, the Hubble Space Telescope has been a boon to researchers, revealing among other things the black-hole cores of galaxies and the phenomenon known as “dark energy.” But the Hubble is on its last legs, and will likely cease operations in the next few years. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, was planned to takeover as NASA’s top space observatory.

That is, until Congressional committees put the Webb on the block during this year’s budget crisis. The Webb has had tremendous cost overruns (expected final price tag: $8 billion) as NASA was forced to invent new technologies to accommodate its placement in deep space. (The Webb is an infrared telescope, and it needs to be far away from the Earth — or any other body — in order to work properly.)

Then in November the Webb was seemingly saved, as the committee in charge of NASA’s budget set aside $500 million for the telescope. The Webb has a projected launch date of 2018, however, and a lot can happen between now and then.


With the expensive space shuttle program retired and private enterprise about to take over the “day-to-day” business of ferrying people and equipment into orbit, NASA freed itself up in 2011 to focus on the long-term effort of sending humans into deep space. Focus they did, unveiling the agency’s deep-space spacecraft this spring.

The unsexily named Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), based on NASA’s Orion craft, is intended to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. A Mars mission may follow, sometime in the 2030s. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out like that Brian De Palma film.


On April 12, 1961, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 1. Gagarin never flew in space again, but his mission was a key moment in the space race, prompting President Kennedy to persuade Congress to fund NASA with the goal of putting a man on the moon with 10 years.

The world marked the anniversary of Gagarin’s mission in many ways (including a Google Doodle), but the spirit of it lives on in the form of renewed space exploration efforts worldwide, particularly in China and Europe.


After a 34-year journey, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to go where nothing man-made has gone before: outside our solar system. Voyager 1, traveling at 36,000 mph, is at the very edge, where the charged particles and solar winds emanating from our sun become indistinguishable from the conditions of interstellar space. It’s already finding that the transition isn’t smooth — valuable data for when Voyager 2 crosses over shortly after its brother.


In 2011 NASA continued to cement its status as the government agency that best uses social media, making use of Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, YouTube and of course Twitter. From astronauts aboard the space station to the prolific Mars rovers, NASA has Twitter feeds serving up content like nothing on Earth.


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When Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center just before dawn on July 21, 2011, it marked the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. The shuttle was the space agency’s No. 1 space vehicle for 30 years, with numerous successes under its belt — notably the deployment and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and construction of the International Space Station.

The shuttles themselves, however, were notoriously more complex and expensive than they were ever intended to be. They also unfortunately suffered from reliability issues, leading to the tragic destruction of two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia.

Despite its issues, the shuttle continued to serve well past its sell-by date, becoming a pop-culture icon along the way. In its last year of operation, the shuttle also finished one of its key tasks: complete assembly of the International Space Station. It’s certainly earned its retirement, which the orbiters spend in numerous museums throughout the country.


As NASA was saying goodnight to the space shuttle, private enterprise was rising to fill the niche. Given the extreme cost of launching anything into orbit and NASA’s budget woes, the space agency has been extremely supportive of many private efforts, awarding $269.3 million the past year to companies such as Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and SpaceX (aka Space Exploration Technologies) to speed up development programs for launch vehicles and spacecraft.

SpaceX’s vision of space travel is bold. With its reusable Dragon spacecraft, it plans to take over supply missions to the International Space Station starting in February 2012, and CEO Elon Musk has said the company will enable humans to set foot on Mars within 10 years.

The industry of space tourism is also taking steps toward reality. The primary spacecraft of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic completed its first solo flight in October, with plans to begin ferrying passengers into space in 2013.


The year kicked off with the promising discovery of the smallest exoplanet (planets outside our solar system) yet: Kepler-10b. The rocky planet, 560 light-years away, was about 1.4 times the size of Earth. It was also very close to its star, with a surface temperature estimated at 2,500 degrees — much too hot to support life.

That’s why Dec. 5 the discovery of Kepler-22b, 600 light-years away, was far more exciting. Although twice the size of the Earth, the so-called Christmas Planet is right in the “goldilocks zone” — a distance from its star that would make it neither too hot or too cold to support life. With the revelation of two more Earth-size planets a couple of weeks later, we could be on the cusp an exoplanet-discovery bonanza.


With the space shuttle grabbing most of the attention this year, it was almost overlooked that during the final mission of Discovery, the assembly of the International Space Station was essentially finished. NASA says the shuttle’s delivery of the “Permanent Multipurpose Module” was its last contribution to the structure.

The ISS was originally planned to cease operations in 2013, but that was extended to 2020, when it’s planned to crash into the ocean. NASA and others are now working to get that pushed out to 2028.


Despite a botched initial deployment, the Hubble Space Telescope has been a boon to researchers, revealing among other things the black-hole cores of galaxies and the phenomenon known as “dark energy.” But the Hubble is on its last legs, and will likely cease operations in the next few years. Its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, was planned to takeover as NASA’s top space observatory.

That is, until Congressional committees put the Webb on the block during this year’s budget crisis. The Webb has had tremendous cost overruns (expected final price tag: $8 billion) as NASA was forced to invent new technologies to accommodate its placement in deep space. (The Webb is an infrared telescope, and it needs to be far away from the Earth — or any other body — in order to work properly.)

Then in November the Webb was seemingly saved, as the committee in charge of NASA’s budget set aside $500 million for the telescope. The Webb has a projected launch date of 2018, however, and a lot can happen between now and then.


With the expensive space shuttle program retired and private enterprise about to take over the “day-to-day” business of ferrying people and equipment into orbit, NASA freed itself up in 2011 to focus on the long-term effort of sending humans into deep space. Focus they did, unveiling the agency’s deep-space spacecraft this spring.

The unsexily named Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), based on NASA’s Orion craft, is intended to return astronauts to the moon by 2020. A Mars mission may follow, sometime in the 2030s. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out like that Brian De Palma film.


On April 12, 1961, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 1. Gagarin never flew in space again, but his mission was a key moment in the space race, prompting President Kennedy to persuade Congress to fund NASA with the goal of putting a man on the moon with 10 years.

The world marked the anniversary of Gagarin’s mission in many ways (including a Google Doodle), but the spirit of it lives on in the form of renewed space exploration efforts worldwide, particularly in China and Europe.


After a 34-year journey, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is about to go where nothing man-made has gone before: outside our solar system. Voyager 1, traveling at 36,000 mph, is at the very edge, where the charged particles and solar winds emanating from our sun become indistinguishable from the conditions of interstellar space. It’s already finding that the transition isn’t smooth — valuable data for when Voyager 2 crosses over shortly after its brother.


In 2011 NASA continued to cement its status as the government agency that best uses social media, making use of Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, YouTube and of course Twitter. From astronauts aboard the space station to the prolific Mars rovers, NASA has Twitter feeds serving up content like nothing on Earth.



Image courtesy of NASA

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Mashable/~3/qBXEngogqZM/

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