NASA’s New Orbit

NASA’s new plan for future trips to the moon don’t go directly to the moon. Instead, future moonwalkers will first visit a ‘lunar gateway’ in a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit.

Representatives from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance participated in a forum last week held by NASA to determine the future of humans on the moon. This isn’t just how they will live, how long they will stay, or what they will do; no, this is far more interesting: this was how humans will travel from lunar orbit from the surface of the moon. The future of the next generation of lunar lander is being determined right now.

The plan right now is entirely unlike Apollo, which sent a pair of spaceships in orbit around the moon, sent one to the surface, then returned to the mother ship for the trip back to Earth. Instead of something somewhat simple, the next era of lunar exploration will happen from a gateway orbiting in cis-lunar space. What makes this so amazing is how weird the orbit is, and the reasons behind it.

Soon, there will be a space station orbiting somewhere around the moon. It’s not actually in lunar orbit, although if you looked at it long enough it might seem like it. This is the orbit that will be the first stopping point on the way to the moon, and unlike the Apollo missions, this lunar gateway will be able to take us anywhere, whether it’s to the water ice trapped under the poles, to the far side of the moon, or to revisit the historic landmarks of the Apollo and Surveyor landing sites.

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