NASA: Landing Men & Women on the Moon Before the Next Decade is Out

Credit: NASA

NASA has released the National Space Exploration Campaign Report that had been mandated by Congress. It commits the United States to building a human-tended Lunar Gateway beginning in 2023 and returning humans to the moon’s surface by the end of the 2020’s.

The plan is to build a sustainable architecture for lunar exploration that is open to commercial and international partners. NASA would use the exploration campaign to test out technologies for sending astronauts to Mars.

Below are key excerpts from the report.

National Space Exploration Campaign Report
September 2018

[Full Report — PDF]

Five Core National Drivers

The National Space Exploration Campaign aims to revitalize and add direction to NASA’s enduring purpose to carry out human and robotic exploration missions, expanding the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds, and the cosmos as a whole. NASA also advances new technologies in aeronautics and space systems that allow American industry to increase market shares and create new markets. The Campaign addresses five core national drivers:

  • Scientific Knowledge
  • Global Engagement
  • Economic Development
  • Societal Improvement
  • Leadership and Inspiration

Strategic Goals

The National Space Exploration Campaign has five strategic goals:

  1. Transition U.S. human spaceflight in LEO to commercial operations that support NASA and the needs of an emerging commercial economy.
  2. Lead the emplacement of capabilities that support lunar surface operations and facilitate missions beyond cislunar space.
  3. Foster scientific discovery and characterization of lunar resources through a series of robotic missions.
  4. Return U.S. astronauts to the surface of the Moon for a sustained campaign of exploration and utilization.
  5. Demonstrate on the Moon the capabilities required for human missions to Mars and other destinations.
Credit: NASA


NASA is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon, starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s….

By the late 2020s, a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin sortie missions to the surface of the Moon. Lunar surface activities enabled by these efforts, in tandem with the Gateway, will expand and diversify over time, taking advantage of the Moon and cislunar space for scientific exploration in the broadest sense.

Lunar Gateway – Living and Working Around the Moon

Credit: NASA

On the Gateway, America and her partners will prepare to transit deep space, validating new technologies and systems as we build the infrastructure to support missions to the surface of the Moon and prepare for the epochal journey to Mars. NASA also will study the effects of the deep space environment of the Gateway. We will learn how living organisms react to the radiation and microgravity environment beyond LEO. The Gateway will serve as a critical laboratory to expand our knowledge in this area by hosting biological and biomedical studies in the deep-space environment over longer periods than previously possible.

The Gateway also will be assessed as a platform for the assembly of payloads and systems, by robots or humans, for human and scientific exploration that leverages its unique vantage point in deep space. The Gateway will serve as a reusable command module for lunar vicinity and surface exploration. It will evolve to serve as a way station for the development of refueling depots, servicing platforms, and a sample return facility from the surface of the Moon and other bodies in support of science and commerce. At its fullest, the Gateway will take up 20 percent of the habitable volume of the ISS.

From a strategic perspective, the Gateway transitions ISS partnerships within the commercial space sector and international community from low-Earth orbit to the Moon. Some elements of the Gateway already are under construction at NASA centers across the United States, including facilities in Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and at commercial partner facilities.

The first element, providing power and propulsion, will launch from Florida in 2022. The development of this first strategic element will incorporate innovative procurement and partnering strategies, capitalize on U.S. commercial communication satellite capabilities, demonstrate high-power solar electric propulsion technology, and provide critical functionality for the rest of the space vehicle (such as the SEP and Habitation module).

Through an innovative combination of missions involving commercial and international partners, robotic lunar surface missions will begin as early as 2020, focus on scientific exploration of resources, and prepare the lunar surface for a sustained human presence.

The Gateway will be constructed in place, incrementally, using the American-built Orion spacecraft and SLS, as well as commercial launch vehicles.

Near-Term Precursor Missions

Credit: NASA

In the near-term, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) will provide delivery of lunar payloads using emerging commercial landers through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) procurement – the defining values being speed and commercial partnership. NASA will focus on continued growth of emerging commercial capabilities to enhance lunar lander capabilities and utilization of the Moon (including potential lunar communications networks). In every aspect, technology and commercial sector capabilities will feed forward and integrate with human exploration approaches.

NASA is reviewing longer-term, higher-power capabilities needed to survive lunar nights and operations in shaded portions of the surface by considering surface fission power, which will fuel in-situ resource utilization demonstrations and other needs. NASA also is studying requirements for the next-generation spacesuits needed for lunar exploration.

While orbital missions have provided extensive information about the lunar surface and its potential resources, robotic lunar scouts are essential to validate these observations and prepare for human habitation and utilization of the Moon’s rich array of resources.

Planned landers and rovers provide excellent platforms to demonstrate technologies that will enable greater lunar surface mission capabilities and have applications that extend beyond the Moon to Mars. Multiple landers will provide a global view of the Moon and its resources.

Landers, outfitted with sensor packages, also will be used to conduct critical risk-reduction activities, including those that aid in the development of technologies that will enable precise and soft landings on the lunar surface. Rovers will be used to explore the surface more extensively; carrying instruments such as ISRU experiments that will provide detailed information on the availability and extraction of usable resources, including oxygen and water….

Overall, the National Space Exploration Campaign is different from past endeavors that were unsustainable or never matured. With an open architecture approach, the National Space Exploration Campaign provides the flexibility to incorporate new systems and capabilities as they develop, thereby taking advantage of newly acquired knowledge and the technological and economic capabilities of all exploration partners.

For example, commercial launch capabilities are increasing with multiple new heavy-lift systems expected to be operational by the early- to mid-2020s. It is in the national interest to have reliable, lower-cost launch capabilities and the National Space Exploration Campaign will take advantage of those capabilities as they emerge.

NASA has led the development of standards in key operations and interfaces that will ensure that, as new capabilities are developed by the U.S. commercial space sector and international partners, the National Space Exploration Campaign can leverage and incorporate them as appropriate.

Key Questions

As we move beyond low-Earth Orbit, America and its strategic partners will begin to answer critical questions, such as:

  1. Can the Moon become a center for commercial enterprise? Are there significant deposits of water that can support human settlement or fuel a human journey to deep space?
  2. How can the Campaign engage a broader range of U.S. industrial sectors?
  3. How can we translate the incredible developments from this Campaign into benefits for American and global society?
  4. How will advanced propulsion play a role in opening the ocean of space for American voyagers well beyond today’s limitations? For example, what roles will chemical propulsion, solar electric propulsion, and nuclear propulsion for space transportation play?

International Space Station Transition

International Space Station (Credit: NASA)

In pursuit of a timely development and transition of commercial capabilities in LEO, where NASA envisions being one of many customers in the mid-2020s, the Administration is requesting $150 million in FY2019 (with increasing investments in subsequent years) for a new Commercial LEO Development program. These funds will stimulate the development and maturation of private sector entities and capabilities that will ensure commercial successors to the ISS – potentially including elements of the ISS – are operational by 2025.

This stimulation seeks to strengthen overall demand and interest in utilization of commercial platform(s) in LEO. It is vitally important that a broad customer base emerges in the next few years to supplant NASA’s historically central role in the LEO economy. Private sector platform operators will be best able to identify potential customers for their platforms, including activities that NASA might may not have the capability or authority to support using a government-owned and operated platform.

U.S. companies will begin to provide commercial access to space for paying customers from the U.S. and around the world. The commercial possibilities are endless – from tourism to training for deep space missions. For example, biotechnology, materials and manufacturing companies require equipment to produce the breakthrough pharmaceuticals, the highest-quality optical fiber or 3D-printed tools for space travel, and any platform will need to support highly trained, discipline-specific scientists and engineers to live and work in the unique microgravity environment.

Specific transition activities include:

  • Expand partnerships in LEO to include new companies and nations, including working with commercial partners to support new international astronaut visits.
  • Expand public-private partnerships to develop and demonstrate technologies and capabilities to enable new commercial space products and services, including those that continue scientific exploration in LEO.
  • Pursue other efforts to enable the shift away from direct government-funded support of the ISS. For a full assessment on the transition of LEO, please refer to the recently published NASA ISS Transition Report at:


In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

An important part of the National Space Exploration Campaign’s goals for Mars and beyond include maintaining and growing U.S. leadership at Mars with a rover in 2020 as the first step of a sample-return strategy. We will search for past life and demonstrate the production of fuel and other resources that enable human exploration.

We also will use this mission as a building block for a subsequent roundtrip robotic mission with the historic first rocket launch off another planet and a sample return. This mission will serve as a critical precursor to an eventual series of crewed Mars missions planned to start in the 2030’s and culminating in a surface landing.