Back to the Moon

NASA Getting Ready to Leave Orbit?

NASA is planning on a “big” announcement soon that may relate to humans returning to the area of the moon after what will be a 40 year hiatus. Rumors floating around the online space policy community point to a possible exploration of the L2 area of the Earth-Moon system in keeping with benchmarks set by President Obama’s NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, tells Space.com that NASA may be announcing plans to return humans to the Moon. He further elaborated that these plans may have already been approved by the Obama administration and that NASA was waiting to make the announcement until sometime after the 2012 presidential election, in the event that a Romney administration might have changed NASA’s direction and budget. In keeping with President Obama’s 2010 directive, NASA is currently building the SLS – the Space Launch System – with tentative goals to return to the Moon, reach an asteroid and then orbit Mars by the mid-2030s.

What exactly is NASA planning to do at the L2 point? And what is an L2 Point? First of all, “L2″ refers to one of the Lagrange points, which are a kind of midway area between the gravitational pulls of the Earth and the Moon. Sitting in a Langrange point is a bit like balancing. In theory, it should be a very cost-effective place or park a space station or spacecraft at L2 because you wouldn’t need a lot of fuel to maintain position, relative to other areas of the Earth-Moon system. NASA apparently is hoping to explore L2, which is on the other side of the Moon and is 270,000+ miles away from Earth, as part of the new direction that should lead to Mars. This “gateway spacecraft” would be manned and could be used as a staging area for missions to even further deep space destinations.

NASA hasn’t officially announced anything concrete just yet, and while the general timeline laid out by President Obama is public knowledge (Moon to Asteroid to Mars), the specifics of it haven’t been spelled out by NASA. When this announcement goes down, expect that Penny4NASA will cover the details.

See page 26 of this report for a brief description of what NASA means by a manned station at L2.