NASA Outlines Lunar Surface Sustainability Concept


April 2, 2020

Infographic showing the evolution of lunar activities on the surface and in lunar orbit
Infographic showing the evolution of lunar activities on the surface and in orbit.

When NASA sends astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024, it will be the first time outside of watching historical footage most people witness humans walking on another planetary body. Building on these footsteps, future robotic and human explorers will put in place infrastructure for a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon.

NASA recently proposed a plan to go from limited, short-term Apollo-era exploration of the 1960s, to a 21st Century plan in a report to the National Space Council. With the Artemis program, we will explore more of the Moon than ever before to make the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration – the development of a sustained presence on and around the Moon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the Moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars.”

On the surface, the core elements for a sustained presence would include an emphasis on mobility to allow astronauts to explore more of the Moon and conduct more science:

  • A lunar terrain vehicle or LTV, would transport crew around the landing zone
  • The habitable mobility platform would enable crews to take trips across the Moon lasting up to 45 days
  • A lunar foundation surface habitat would house as many as four crew members on shorter surface stays

Astronauts working on the lunar surface also could test advanced robotics, as well as a wide set of new technologies identified in the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative, focusing on tech development in the areas such as of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and power systems. Rovers will carry a variety of instruments including ISRU experiments that will generate information on the availability and extraction of usable resources (e.g., oxygen and water). Advancing these technologies could enable the production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, enabling sustainable surface operations with decreasing supply needs from Earth.

Another key difference from Apollo and Artemis will be use of the Gateway in lunar orbit, built with commercial and international partners. The lunar outpost will serve as a command and control module for surface expeditions and an office and home for astronauts away from Earth. Operating autonomously when crew is not present, it also will be a platform for new science and technology demonstrations around the Moon.

Over time, NASA and its partners will enhance the lunar Gateway’s habitation capabilities and related life support systems. Adding a large-volume deep space habitation element would allow astronauts to test capabilities around the Moon for long-duration deep space missions.

While the goal of Apollo was to land the first humans on the Moon, the Artemis program will use the Moon as a testbed for crewed exploration farther into the solar system, beginning with Mars. This is America’s Moon to Mars space exploration approach. A proposed multi-month split-crew operation at the Gateway and on the lunar surface would test the agency’s concept for a human mission to the Red Planet.

For such a mission, NASA envisions a four-person crew traveling to the Gateway and living aboard the outpost for a multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars. Later, two crew members would travel to the lunar surface and explore with the habitable mobility platform, while the remaining two astronauts stay aboard Gateway. The four crew members are later reunited aboard the lunar outpost for another multi-month stay, simulating the return trip to Earth. This mission would be the longest duration human deep space mission in history and would be the first operational test of the readiness of our deep-space systems.

The report also highlights a robotic return to the surface beginning next year for scientific discovery. The Moon is a natural laboratory to study planetary processes and evolution, and a platform from which to observe the universe. NASA will send dozens of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon with its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. Some of these robotic precursors, including the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover or VIPER, will study the terrain, and metal and ice resources at the lunar South Pole.

The Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, human landing systems and modern spacesuits will round out the agency’s deep space systems. As part of the Artemis III mission, the first human expedition back on the Moon will last approximately seven days. NASA plans to send Artemis Generation astronauts on increasingly longer missions about once per year thereafter.

With strong support in NASA, America and its partners will test new technologies and reduce exploration costs over time. Supporting infrastructure including power, radiation shielding, a landing pad, as well as waste disposal and storage could be built up in the coming decades, too.

“The U.S. is still the only nation to have successfully landed humans on the Moon and spacecraft on the surface of Mars,” the report states. “As other nations increasingly move out into space, American leadership is now called for to lead the next phase of humanity’s quest to open up the future to endless discovery and growth.”

Read the full report:

NASA’s Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development

Last Updated: April 2, 2020

Editor: Cheryl Warner

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April 3, 2020 2:19 am

I had seen Nasa’s recent update, which unfortunately wasn’t an update, more like an intern going CGI crazy… because a few days before its release, Scott Manley gave a news round-up saying that the Gateway had been scrapped. Having a Gateway and not having one are two very different things – yet it is mentioned in this article… this was a week ago.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Mstt
April 3, 2020 2:21 pm

They also announced that assembly and test operations for SLS have been closed down, as has the Michoud Assembly Facility, because of the coronavirus. There’s no real hope of a test flight in 2021. And the burden SLS places on the NASA budget will likely preclude finishing the Orion spacecraft and developing a lunar lander. Even the mobile launch platform is experiencing serious cost overruns (125% so far, and they’re not done) and schedule slips.

I wonder how long they’ll continue pretending they can pull this off?

April 3, 2020 2:32 am

With the world economy in meltdown at present, who will foot the bill in just 4 years time?

Reply to  Oldseadog
April 3, 2020 3:05 am

Just three months ago, before the latest financial commitments the U.S. debt to other countries was almost $8 trillions , while the further $23 trillions of national debt is owned by either the American people or by the U.S. government itself.
In years to come value of paper money (bank accounts) will be gradually devalued in respect to the high quality assets.

Reply to  Vuk
April 3, 2020 3:45 am

LOL, we can’t even find paper face masks for front line medical staff and ventilators and we dream of going to the moon again.

With the X-Trillion dollar bailouts in progress, NASA may have to push back the launch date. Maybe the Russians could help out.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Greg
April 3, 2020 5:43 am

With oil at $25-$30/bbl, the Russians are the ones in trouble. Russia needs oil at $42/bbl to remain solvent at current levels of military and space activity.

Bryan A
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
April 3, 2020 7:02 am

4 Astronauts travel to the Gateway and remain there for 7-8 months (the duration of an interplanetary trip to Mars). Then 2 go down to the surface of the moon and remain there for (12 – 18 months? ) before returning to the Gateway for an additional 7 months (return trip).
There is one difference between this and an actual trip to Mars, the psychological aspect.
At the Moon, you are still in sight of Home and should something go amiss a couple days trip and you’re home in an emergency.
On Mars, you can’t see the earth as more than another bright star and would also feel psychologically isolated.

Reply to  Greg
April 3, 2020 8:22 am

There’s a big difference between a supply bottleneck and not having the ability at all.

Bill Powers
Reply to  Vuk
April 3, 2020 10:15 am

Vuk, add to your numbers the $70 Trillion in unfunded Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid debt coming due with the Baby Boomers and one could begin to theorize a conspiracy with COVID19.

Rather than do any further damage to devalued currency maybe somebody figured to have China secretly cook up a virus most specifically targeting the 60 and up age group and save all the social security and medicare payouts. Heck they are probably figuring to knock out a lot of medicaid expenditures with the compromised immune system crowd. Food for thought.

For those that enjoy a good conspiracy theory. After all the article is about moon landings.

Reply to  Bill Powers
April 3, 2020 1:08 pm

Problem is, the vast majority of upper echelon swamp things are Boomers too.

Reply to  Patrick
April 3, 2020 1:44 pm

but, you forget, they already have the vaccine & cure :))

Bill Powers
Reply to  Patrick
April 3, 2020 4:54 pm

Pay close attention to what DonM said. The 1% of the 1%ers are made up of the Global Elites who run the companies that own the lab in Wuhan Province., Of course they had the vaccine before releasing the virus.

They likely have a cure for cancer but the general public isn’t going to see it until they have the controls they seek on population (Read “Brave New World”). Cancer takes care of 1 in 6 deaths Globally or about 10 million people. We can’t add those folks back into the population numbers to much of a burden on the already overburdened system.

April 3, 2020 2:52 am

Hopefully no one.

Charles Higley
Reply to  Bsl
April 3, 2020 6:27 am

The concept of sustainability cannot apply to the Moon as there are no natural processes at work that would be interrupted, only those working over millions of years to make only craters and dust. The idea of a surface habitat is stupid. We need to be underground with a natural radiation shield over us and just a few hatches to the surface. It’s much easier and cheaper to build an airtight hatch system than an entire surface installation. They need to develop major boring machines for tunneling and digging out rooms for a tunnel habitat.

April 3, 2020 3:02 am

Hmm. It’s not saying we going to explore the lunar polar region.
NASA {and other idiots} like to say, first at doing something. No one has gone to lunar polar region.
And lunar polar region is “A Lot” different then elsewhere on the Moon.
So, why are they not saying the first to go to a lunar polar region?
One important aspect of lunar polar region is it is a small region.
Or surface of Moon is like the area of North America, and a lunar polar region is like the area of New Hampshire.
On moon as on earth, one has 1/2 day and 1/2 night {on average}. In places in lunar polar region one can get 80% of the time in daylight.
And one could call it, the land of Shadows. Fairly large areas mostly in sunlight, and fairly large areas, always in shadow. And because sunlight is always low on horizon, anything blocking the sunlight casts long shadows. So it’s going be a weird place to go- it will be a new and strange land. And Earth going hang low on horizon. So you reach out and hold the Earth in your hand- and have someone take a picture of it.
And then there is this part:
“Rovers will carry a variety of instruments including ISRU experiments that will generate information on the availability and extraction of usable resources (e.g., oxygen and water). Advancing these technologies could enable the production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, enabling sustainable surface operations with decreasing supply needs from Earth.”

What important is finding minable lunar water, and that could result in the cost to go the moon to be cheaper. And start new markets: Lunar water, Lunar rocket fuel, and lunar electrical power. And having lower cost and more availability of electrical power and on Moon, will lower cost of doing many things on the Moon.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  gbaikie
April 3, 2020 10:31 am

gbaikie, I like your way of thinking. If, as evidence indicates, there are mineable amounts of water ice layered in at the lunar poles, surely other useful volatiles like ammonia ices or other nitrogen compounds, too, are likely to be there. The Moon has been bombarded by comets and asteroids for billions of years, and if temperature conditions at the poles tend to trap the ensuing volatiles content, that’s big news, i.e., handy “comet stuff” in a location near to us!

Given that it will take time to develop anything useful from this, it still would make sense to have some sort of focus on the lunar polar regions for potential satellite industry use and related science research.

Reply to  David Blenkinsop
April 3, 2020 12:59 pm

“Given that it will take time to develop anything useful from this, it still would make sense to have some sort of focus on the lunar polar regions for potential satellite industry use and related science research.”

Well, it going to take time simply to analysis the results of the exploration of the lunar polar region. And time analysis whether the lunar water found, is mineable.
And this is the beauty of exploring the Moon and then exploring Mars.
If NASA explores what is quite simple to do, the small area of lunar polar region, it proves NASA can do this fairly easy thing to do- as compared to vast land area of Mars. Or this by itself makes lunar exploration a “testbed” for Mars exploration. A cheap and fast “testbed”. So, all NASA has to do find explore the lunar polar region and determine if and where there could be mineable. And NASA immediate task is done. Then NASA immediately starts focusing on the Manned exploration of Mars program. And while NASA does this, there is time for the data to examined from the lunar polar region to be evaluated and the power of free markets to do the job of beginning new markets on the Moon.

There many Mars fans which imagine, we can have settlements on Mars. Settlements are towns and towns are market places.
I think there is a lot doubt about idea of whether Mars towns would be viable towns.
And I think it’s NASA’s task to determine the possibility of whether towns on Mars could actually possibly be viable. It is true that only way to actually determine if Mars towns could viable is if there is means and will for people to go to Mars and see if they can make it happen.
BUT NASA exploration of Mars “allows” basically such attempts to make towns on Mars to be less suicidal and/or allow one to know what kinds of problems you might have before doing something like Elon Musk wants to do- or his starship plans.

And in addition if there are or going to be markets on the Moon, then think this by itself makes mars settlements “more viable”. Or before NASA even scratches the Mars surface, we might start lunar market based upon the exploration work of NASA lunar exploration.

Another problem with the vastness of Mars surface, is going to take many years to explore Mars, “enough”. And if markets are starting on the Moon, US congress will more eager to continue funding this multiyear task of exploring Mars- higher budgets and longer budgets for Mars exploration {the doubt the Congress would support this has always been problem with US exploring Mars].
Anyways, people like Musk and desires to make settlements on Mars, don’t need to wait for NASA to decide it’s finished exploring Mars. Instead if people start Mars settlements {or determine it’s impossible to have Mars settlements} this is indication that NASA should plan to end it’s mars exploration program- or the purpose of program would have been achieved. And next place to explore could be Mercury and/or Venus. Or I guess to find alien life- perhaps the moons of Jupiter.

Reply to  gbaikie
April 3, 2020 2:41 pm

“Mercury and/or Venus”. The problem with Mercury is it’s orbital inclination. And there could be various ways to overcome this problem. If Mercury “didn’t have” this problem, in some ways it’s better than Mars. Mercury better is same sense that the lunar poles are good. Mercury has always been considered to ice in it’s polar regions. And because Mercury is a lot larger than our Moon, it has bigger polar region. And keep in mind, the polar region would be more colder, than idea that Mercury is hot. But both Mercury and our Moon is fairly close to the vacuum in space.
And vacuum of space, “has no temperature”- it’s not cold nor hot. But both can have very cold surface, can always cold when at poles, and why there could water ice there. But like our moon’s land of shadows, the Mercury polar region is also land of Shadows, where surface can get sunlight or can get shadow, but due to low angle of sunlight, unless the surface is vertical it doesn’t get hot- or why I say Mercury polar region is mostly cold rather hotness one might imagine. Of course, humans can easily make a surface vertical so as to get the full power of the sun.
Anyways if don’t include Mercury, the planetary location of Venus makes it the best planet to go to anywhere in our solar system. Or if want to go to Jupiter, it’s faster and easier than from Earth, and much easier as compared from going from Mars.
And if low gravity is problem for the living, Venus sky has almost the same gravity as Earth- sky is good place to visit, but not the very hot Venus surface.
Though problem with Venus sky is it’s just about as hard to leave as leaving from the surface of Earth. Mars and Mercury is easy to leave, and our moon is very easy {to leave or land, if you got rocket fuel]. So Venus “infrastructure” to go to rest of solar system, would at least start with being in Venus orbits. But such infrastructure would be useful to explore Venus sky {and it’s surface}. Venus also easier to get to than going from Earth to Mars orbit. And as said, quicker to get to Mars from Venus, then from Mars. Or if you have Mars settlements, you going to have infrastructure at Venus orbit. Mars gets more launch windows and get there quicker if have say station with rocket fuel and it has artificial gravity. And it would as cheap to send rocket fuel to Venus as compared to sending lunar rocket fuel to Earth’s low orbit.

David Blenkinsop
Reply to  gbaikie
April 3, 2020 11:05 pm

For the long term of human space habitation, I think of Venus’ orbits as useful locations. In principle we could park megatonnes of carefully gathered asteroid material there without that seeming to be an immediate threat to our planet Earth — the distance to Venus being a safeguard that we wouldn’t have if parking huge amounts of rock, metals, etc., right in earth orbit. Given a ring of materials like that, Venus orbit could be Space Habitat Central, and it has twice the solar power density compared to Earth’s vicinity too.

Reply to  gbaikie
April 4, 2020 2:20 am


And Earth has few quasi moons, and Venus could have more quasi moons, that we have not yet, found.
,,, oh yes, we know about this one:
“Venus has one known quasi-satellite, 2002 VE68. This asteroid is also a Mercury- and Earth-crosser; it seems to have been a “companion” to Venus for the last 7000 years or so only, and is destined to be ejected from this orbital arrangement about 500 years from now.”

None of the quasi moons, which I am aware of, “work” in terms of having low delta-v to reach them.
But it’s possible we might find one {which probably could be quite unstable} which can be easily reached.
Or if/when we are very brilliant/capable, we could find a rock before even starts to become a possible quasi moon of Venus- say, having a lead time of 5 to 10 year to move it, so that it would then get into useful orbit.

Peter Morris
April 3, 2020 5:16 am

This will only work as long as we send the best of the best, tested for psychological fitness.

The social justice crowd will have none of that, though. They’re going to demand the astronauts “look like America,” and that’s going to get someone killed.

April 3, 2020 5:21 am

NASA is like any other government agency…always trying to justify it’s purpose. Building an outpost on the moon to support exploration to Mars? People, we are still using chemical propulsion systems to gain escape velocity of earth’s gravity! All this pollyanish scifi nonsense, while aspirational to some, is a giant waste of resource.

If we must explore, send probes, you don’t have to send human life support with it.

Reply to  Oatley
April 3, 2020 5:42 am

Even better , why not just create a computer model of the moon and do “experiments” on the model?
NASA are world leaders in that sort of thing.

Reply to  Greg
April 3, 2020 1:45 pm


Reply to  Greg
April 3, 2020 3:09 pm

Now Greg that is the funniest thing I have ever seen you write. Well done.

Reply to  Oatley
April 3, 2020 8:30 am

NASA, like other government agencies, spends most of its efforts justifying its purpose, reorganizing its management structure, and planning for the future.

NASA has been planning to go back to the moon for a long time, and sofar, nothing to show for it. Call me when NASA has a human launch capability.

Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
April 3, 2020 3:17 pm

“NASA, like other government agencies, spends most of its efforts justifying its purpose, reorganizing its management structure, and planning for the future.”
Yes, and in my opinion, very badly.
As Rand Simberg says, space is not important.
Though of course Rand knows as well as everyone knows, that the satellite market is important. And as I said endless, my opinion is if not for the satellite market, NASA would cease to exist. One could say that the satellite market is an enabler that allows the NASA train wreck to continue. Or satellite market allows NASA to explore space {though NASA has not really explored space, yet] AND the satellite market kind of hid the fact than NASA is not doing anything important- it spends most of time talking gibberish, and leading the public down some asshat path.
BUT there is sort of analogy of NASA and CDC. CDC has been a train wreck, but the moment the CDC has something important to do, and after we whip the CDC senseless, next time we have pandemic, it’s possible they manage it, in some kind of reasonable fashion.

“NASA has been planning to go back to the moon for a long time, and sofar, nothing to show for it. Call me when NASA has a human launch capability.”
Well, SLS is of course useless and very costly. But NASA has SpaceX -with Falcon 9 and the dragon human return capsule.
And apparently or maybe, NASA gets the SpaceX, Starship.

April 3, 2020 5:30 am

Team NASA Lunatics

Joel O’Bryan
April 3, 2020 5:58 am

Multi-month stays on the Gateway in lunar orbit with 4 people.??!!
Oh boy. That sounds like watching paint dry for months on end.
The ISS is a veritable palace in comparison to the livable space of the Gateway. Those folks really better like each other. I’m thinking male:female ratio at 1 would help.

If we have a Democrat President, diversity PC demands would probably force NASA to have at least one of those astronauts as gay. I’m thinking about 2 months into a 6 month mission someone might get tossed out an airlock.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
April 3, 2020 6:31 am

Now that there is funny…

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
April 3, 2020 7:40 am

Reminded me — Gateway, great sci-fi novel by Frederik Pohl:

The characters did indeed have a tough time crowded in the Gateway.

April 3, 2020 6:11 am

Nobody’s going to stop this. It’s an irresistible impulse built in by the Creator.

Reply to  pochas94
April 3, 2020 7:26 am

Thank you for your clear understanding of human nature.

Those above call exploration a waste of money while 25 million goes to the Kennedy Center so the politicians have a nice symphony to go to in DC subsidized by ALL US taxpayers. BILLIONS go to resettlement of “refugees” who came to the US how and why? How many other wastful government programs give money to chosen cronies and supporters are there? Thousands!

Space, the final frontier! We MUST explore.

April 3, 2020 7:23 am

Lunar Surface Sustainability

Whaaaa? You couldn’t make this things up. Next up — Lunar Justice, Trans-Lunar, Lunarphobia, Lunist, Lunar-Earthicans.

Gordon Dressler
April 3, 2020 7:55 am

When, oh when, is NASA going to address climate change on the Moon?

Foley Hund
Reply to  Gordon Dressler
April 3, 2020 11:16 am

..yes! and by the time we get to Mars, it will be too hot due to it’s 95% CO2 atmosphere. oops…Let’s see…just where did we hide that stargate?

April 3, 2020 4:32 pm

“To the moon Alice!” – as her husband “Ralphie boy” was known to say on many a TV episode of The Honeymooners. It may be considered reviving as an advertising slogan for NASA.

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