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NASA to build manned space station beyond the Moon?


September 25, 2012

A deep-space habitat derived from the International Space Station (Image: NASA)

A deep-space habitat derived from the International Space Station (Image: NASA)

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After forty years of venturing no farther than low Earth orbit, NASA may have decided to establish a manned outpost at a greater distance than humanity has ever traveled before. According to documents seen by the Orlando Sentinel, NASA has chosen a proposal to build a space station beyond the Moon that will act as a “gateway spacecraft” to explore the Moon, the asteroids and eventually as a staging post to launch a manned mission to Mars.

The documents refer to a project that NASA Chief Charlie Bolden briefed the White House on earlier this month. They describe a deep space habitat that would be built at Earth-Moon Lagrange 2 (EML-2) – a point in space 38,000 miles (61,000 km) on the far side of the Moon and 277,000 miles (446,000 km) from Earth. The outpost wouldn’t orbit the Moon. Instead, at EML-2 the gravitational and centrifugal forces of the Earth and Moon balance out and an object placed there will remain suspended like one of those desktop novelty floating globes.

The EML-2 station might be built from parts of the International Space Station (ISS) and include a Russian module and Italian components. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), scheduled to fly in 2017, would be used to send the components to EML-2 in 2019, as well as the Orion spacecraft, which would ferry cargo and crew to the outpost.

Missions for the EML-2 station would include exploration of the asteroids, robotic trips to the Moon with the first sample returns by 2022, and a manned mission to Mars. The Sentinel quotes the documents as stating that 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.”

The price of the program isn’t mentioned and this might be a stumbling block for administration support during a time of tight budgets. The White House did not respond to the Orlando Sentinel’s request for comment, and a NASA statement was noncommittal about the outpost.

All this sounds very similar to the 2011 Global Exploration Roadmap drawn up by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), a consortium made up of the ISS partner nations. It outlines possible missions for the next 25 years that could be made possible by extending the service life of the ISS beyond 2020

This report outlined two paths, one called Asteroid Next, which describes the steps needed to explore near-Earth asteroids and Moon Next, which outlines a manned return to the Moon. The EML-2 station appears to be derived from the Asteroid Next path. Whether this is actually the case or not remains to be seen, but the general description from the Sentinel and the Roadmap’s more detailed treatment show no major variations.

If the EML-2 station is approved, it will involve more challenges than the merely monetary. EML-2 lies far outside the Earth’s Van Allen belts and would therefore be vulnerable to high levels of radiation, which would require robust shielding and detection equipment. The Orion spacecraft would also have to be built to withstand reentry speed not encountered since the return of Apollo 17 in 1972.

Because of the distance and travel times to and from Earth measuring in days, systems would need to be heavily automated and built to an unprecedented degree of reliability. Furthermore, new techniques for the long-term storage and management of cryogenic fluids would need to be developed as well as acquiring operational knowledge that is beyond anything needed in manned space exploration to date.

Until officially verified, the EML-2 station still remains only one possible future for the American space program, but if it does come about, the final frontier will have expanded enormously.

Sources: Orlando Sentinel,


About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Exciting to see a proposal for a gateway outpost! Looks like its technological necessities will father many novel inventions. Does it have to be another module design, though? Aren't we ready yet to build a wheel space station? I wonder if the proven inflatable space station module technology made by Bigelow Aerospace could be a practical way of achieving a wheel space station design.


At this point, I'd like to see NASA, or any space organization send up something that would incorporate "centrifugal effects" or "centripetal acceleration" to provide astronauts artificial gravity—along with more effective radiation shielding, these are necessary if we are going to have a real, sustained and growing presence in space.


This station is a bad idea. All it would provide is a tiny fuel savings for deep space operations at the much higher costs of maintain the station in L1.


I'm pretty disappointed by the utter lack of imagination for the ISS components. I also would like to see a station with an artificial gravity design. Any long term stay in space needs to have this important counter measure for the ill effects of microgravity.

Gwyn Rosaire

Not to mention look at the size of it! Would you really want to be cooped up in something the size of a bus with a few other people together for time periods probably lasting up to a year?!? (if not longer)


Wouldn't it be easier to go from Luna to Deimos or Phobos first? (Earth's moon to one of Mars' moons)

There was supposed to be a colony on the Moon by now and instead we haven't even been back- the Shuttle made Telecom rich and now too many people seem to want to just play with their phones or video games... while many others starve or slave.

I know this is not what was being prognosticated so optimistically by scientists a hundred years ago.

Claims without specific,consistent unchanging plans are just hype or propaganda.

Old science magazines made fantastic claims- theirs were more imaginative... ours have prettier pictures and more details.

Will these turn out any different?


This assumes that SLS ever flies. That's not a completely safe assumption, and getting worse all the time.

If this is truly intended as a station, why does it have a cryogenic propulsion stage? Does that move the station into position, then serve as a fuel depot?

Jon A.

This is still too modest. A 'deep space' outpost such as this is an admirable concept, but a Lunar base is also eminently feasible, with exciting prospects for commodity mining and research.


The way station should be in LEO where it can catch and salvage expended liquid fueled boosters that still have a small amount of propellant on board. The crew could then build and fuel boosters for deep space operations, and expand the station itself by cannibalizing the expended rockets. Giving the station a long linear accelerator would give the ability to to provide a little propellant free boost to vehicles but you would have to balance between boosting and deorbiting payloads to maintain your orbit. A spin gravity section would greatly improve the health of the crew as well.


The future of the ISS should figure into this concept, and not with presumption of intentional de-orbit so that some new and glitzy program can take over its previous funding stream. From now on, the space program needs to bootstrap and build upon itself by leveraging the existing infrastructure in which huge investments have already been made, rather than simply discarding them in a continued 'slash-and-burn' path of development.

One possibility for establishing a gateway in High Earth Orbit (HEO) or at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points that should be considered would involve outfitting the existing ISS with more radiation shielding, then integrating an array of ion-drive motors (used in the Dawn probe now flying from Vesta to Ceres) and fuel tanks (like the Shuttle Orbiter's external tank) into the existing structure. Useful not only for station-keeping in its present LEO position, once the distributed array and initial tanks are fully integrated and complete, the entire orbiting structure could slowly and carefully be lifted into geosynchronous orbit or even to one of the Lagrange points. Resupply of reaction fuel could be accomplished through unmanned transfers using well-proven commercial launch vehicles from the US, Russia, Europe and/or China and on-orbit logistical support by the onboard crew to attach new tanks.


The farce is that "money" is the handbrake on human potential. We can do anything if we, as a species, decide we want too.

Ponder this scenario, if you will. An asteroid is on a collision course with earth. It will strike in say 10years and destroy everything on earth.

Now how does the human species react?

If we let our current monetary and economic theory continue, then we would simply all die as it will simply to too expensive to stop the inevitable armageddon. This highlights the stupidity of our current system.

Now if we considered money for what it really is, then nothing is too expensive. Money represents a unit of work, human capital. Nothing more, nothing less. Time, man hours and natural resources are the only limit on what humanity can achieve.

I hope we dont have to face armageddon before the system is forced to change, but I know the human race so I expect we will..


re; cm

Economic theory does not play in the short term survival response either individually or working together those with rockets and nukes would alter the asteroid path.


yeah ok. maybe they should try building a space station themselves first, that isnt based on russian technology. then we can start talking about lack of funds for such an immense project. face it - state sponsored megaprojects in space arent happening anymore, the cold war days are behind us. no country is going to pay for such toys on its own, especially one that is slowly going bankrupt it seems

Dima Koroboff

The headline implies that this project is real. The article then explains its just an idea in someone's brainstorming session.


I think that "artificial gravity" spinning space station looks great in movies, but it would have to be an enormous disc or cylinder station in which the entire station spins. The designs here are much much smaller than would be required for a giant spinner. I bet you'd need something way bigger than an NFL-sized football stadium to make any real headway, maybe even 10 times that size. And I don't think you could make a smaller one and just have one segment of the station moving - what would power that constant movement against the non-moving parts?

David Storfer

That's true that in order to avoid motion induced nausea, a spinning disc space station would have to be enormous, but that can't scare us off forever. Would a super long tether or tunnel with modules attached at either end work? Maybe the balancing act of keeping equal mass at either end of the tether would be too much hassle?


all of this is moot if radiation shielding is not addressed first

Space station radiation shields 'disappointing' 19:00 23 October 2002 by Eugenie Samuel Radiation levels on the International Space Station are as high as they were on the antiquated Russian space station Mir, in spite of NASA's attempts to clad the ISS with better shielding. If NASA can't protect astronauts, its vision of sending a crew into deep space may come to nothing.

tampa florida

Something as simple as a Faraday cage can protect from electrons..However, complete protection will only come from imitating the earths own protections.. I can't believe that no one has yet put this forward..Do I have to show them how to recreate the force field..Can't you put together the information that already exists as i have.. Sorry i don't have money for patent or copyright, so you'll have to figure it out for yourself, unless someone would like to colaborate with that Vile paper called MONEY. We are living in satans world, and the group of 3 hold the key to money supply...until we reveal the fraud and deceit about the creation of two religion countries, and then we can move onto the universe. Hmm remember 1929..who caused that depression.. the year of creation of the Vatican state. Ever play Clue!?

Brian Wills

It is a know fact that molecular motion can be slowed with cooling. In fact absorption of gamma/cosmic, x-ray is known to be facilitated by these low temps.. Protons on the other hand, (neutrons i think as well) are broken down, part of these super sub atomic particles, neutrinos enter the earth at slightly faster than the speed of 300kKM/sec..Slowed and reintegrated into matter of the earths core, fusing with atomic structures changing their isotopic construction, i would call it matter creation. Heat is given off in the form of the auroras (825 oC) and photons given off in light show. Gamma and cosmic rays are 89% protons, which when accelerated towards the pole become superheated and quark breakdown occurs changing the proton into an electron and photons, which appear as the aurora borealis..the electron is then repelled to the south pole, where in collision may gain a quark becoming a proton again and repelled back to the north until all of the particles are broken down at which point the Van allen belts potential decreases and electrons flow off into space..in the solar wind. information is available on nasa sites

Brian Wills

"No manned spacecraft now exists that can withstand the radiation from the Van Allen belts, through which a craft must traverse to make it to the Moon." -SpaceCast News Service, March 9, 1998

Consider the International Space Station, where a chamber built for the purpose of radiation protection is available. The method works for the intermittent periods when solar radiation is intense (as from major flares), but such a chamber adds substantially to the mass of a spacecraft, BECOMING IMPRACTICAL ON MISSIONS BEYOND EARTH ORBIT centauri-dreams . org/?p=1232

To put the space weather radiation hazard to human life in perspective, at geostationary orbit, with only 0.1 gm/cm2 of aluminum shielding thickness, the predicted radiation dose (REM) for one year continuous exposure, with minimum-moderate solar activity, is estimated to be about 3,000,000; using 5.0 gm/cm2 of aluminum shielding, the REM for one year continuous exposure would be reduced to about 550. (Note: REM = dose (RAD) x Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE) of particular ionizing radiation.) Although drastically reduced by shielding, 550 REM for a sample population would cause radiation sickness and about 50 percent deaths www . fas . org/spp/military/docops/usaf/2020/app-f . htm

tampa florida

I'm sure they will just use the moon landers for that, they still have them all nicely tucked away in Museums, for getting through that belt. Just upgrade the electronic, a couple of LCD flat-screens and whatnot, and they should be good as new.

Michiel Mitchell

We need to start thinking like a planet that wants to explore space! First we need to admit the obvious and start looking at rotational modules for human habitat. This would eliminate wasted time on exercising to try and retain bone and muscle mass! Second, we must start thinking of vehicles which are modular, adaptable to new technologies and multi-generational! This would save a lot of cost, in the long run at least, and make it possible to build something that is shaped to live and stay in space!! Two wrongs don't make a wright, but two Wrights built an airplane!!!!!

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