By Tim Binnall
NASA has shared new details on an ambitious plan to send humans back to the moon on a regular basis with the goal of eventually traveling to Mars. The intriguing concept centers around a dramatic change in the way that the space agency previously accomplished lunar missions. Rather than building the craft themselves, NASA has selected nine aerospace companies to bid on $2.6 billion worth of contracts involving the creation and execution of lunar missions.
Announcing the companies chosen to participate in the 'Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program' on Thursday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine indicated that, beyond simply going back to the moon, the endeavor also aims to create something of a new American industry. "We want to be one customer of many customers," he said, "in a robust marketplace between the Earth and the moon." By selecting a number of companies to compete for the prized contracts, the space agency hopes to create an atmosphere of innovation that will allow NASA to "do more than we've ever been able to do before."
In an interview with the website The Hill, Bridenstine shed more light on the specifics of the space agency's lunar mission. He explained that NASA is looking to create a space station, dubbed 'Gateway,' which will be permanently in orbit around the moon. In turn, astronauts to will be ferried to and from the lunar surface via reusable craft. Bridenstine offered a rather bold timetable for accomplishing this feat, revealing that "we think we can achieve this in about 10 years."
Remarkably, he also mused that the space agency sees the moon as something of a stepping stone to an eventual journey to even more fantastic worlds. By first establishing a proverbial lunar outpost, Bridenstine believes that NASA will be able to prove the viability of manned space travel technology, dispel with safety concerns surrounding such missions, and develop a self-sustaining system using lunar resources. Once these critical steps have been satisfied, the NASA chief said, "we take all of those capabilities and we replicate them at Mars."