NASA planning to park a manned 'gateway spacecraft' in space

NASA planning to park a manned 'gateway spacecraft' in space

In a move that would send astronauts farther from the Earth than at any time in history, NASA wants to build a manned 'gateway spacecraft' and 'park' it on far side of the Moon to function as a staging area for future missions to Mars.

At 445,788 kilometres from Earth, the outpost would be far more remote than the current space station, which orbits a little more than 321 kilometres above Earth. The distance raises complex questions of how to protect astronauts from the radiation of deep space - and of how to rescue them if something goes wrong, the Orlando Setinel reported.

NASA Chief Charlie Bolden had briefed the White House earlier this month on details of the proposal, but it's unclear whether it has the administration's support. The price tag of the project is expected to run into billions of dollars.

Documents obtained by the paper show that NASA wants to build a small outpost - likely with parts left over from the USD 100 billion International Space Station — at what's known as the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, a spot about 61,155 kilometres from the Moon.

At that location, the combined gravities of the Earth and moon reach equilibrium, making it possible to "stick" an outpost there with minimal power required to keep it in place.

To get there, NASA would use the massive rocket and space capsule that it is developing as a successor to the retired space shuttle. A first flight of that rocket is planned for 2017, and construction of the outpost would begin two years later, according to NASA planning documents.

Potential missions include the study of nearby asteroids or dispatching robotic trips to the Moon that would gather lunar rocks and bring them back to astronauts at the outpost. The outpost would also lay the groundwork for more-ambitious trips to Mars' moons and even Mars itself.

Placing a "spacecraft at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point beyond the Moon as a test area for human access to deep space is the best near-term option to develop required flight experience and mitigate risk," concluded the NASA report.

The planning documents were unclear on whether astronauts would be permanently stationed at the outpost or there part time, the paper said.

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