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NASA's great plan for a lunar portal is to start small

The space station in NASA's moon orbit will be poor and average, especially at the beginning.

The outpost in deep space, known as Gateway, is a key element of NASA. Artemis program, which plans to shoot down the astronauts near the moon's south pole by 2024. For example, the lunar landers, crewed and unmanned, will depart from the Gateway, and the astronauts will regroup there after finishing their raids of surface, NASA officials said.

(These visitors will arrive Door aboard the NASA Orion crew capsule, which will be launched on the megarocket of the Space Launching System, or SLS. Both Orion and SLS are still in development; The duo is scheduled to fly together for the first time in June 2020, on an unmanned test mission known as Artemis 1.)

Related: Can NASA really put astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

The space agency had been aiming for 2028 for the first lunar landing with a post-Apollo crew. But in March, Vice President Mike Pence announced a new aggressive timeline, pushing the moon to four years.

To ensure that Gateway is ready to operate in 2024, NASA will go first on a reduced scale, basic version which consists solely of one Element of power and propulsion. (PPE), which will be launched in 2022, and a "utilization module" in miniature. This first Gateway incarnation will be able to support two-person missions to the lunar surface, NASA officials said.

An artistic illustration of the power and propulsion element for the lunar Gateway planned by NASA around the moon. The module will provide power retransmission support, propulsion and communications for the Gateway lunar outpost.

(Image: © NASA)

But the agency will reinforce the "Phase 2" of Gateway for Artemis, which aims to establish a long-term sustainable human presence in and around Earth's closest neighbor. (The "Phase 1" culminates with the landing of 2024). Success in Phase 2 will help NASA and its international partners prepare for the final destination of human spaceflight: Mars.

"The smallest gateway is really oriented to reach the surface of the moon, so it has a minimum life support capacity, has minimal coupling ports," Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Directorate of Operations Mission and Human Exploration from NASA at the agency's headquarters in Washington, DC, said during a teleconference with reporters on Thursday (May 23).

"We really need a little more space, a little more volume," he added. "Therefore, it is likely that we want some additional docking ports for other things, so we can potentially have multiple lunar landing modules in that place."

More ports would also be useful if the Phase 2 Gateway serves as a spacecraft refueling station, which is a possibility, said Gerstenmaier. He added that the additional space, both inside and outside the ministorship, would allow more research.

A larger Gateway would offer more comfortable accommodation for the crew. And the larger station would provide more opportunities for NASA's international partners to participate, Gerstenmaier said. This last consideration is important for the agency, which has emphasized for a long time that the difficult and expensive search to put boots on Mars will be a collaborative effort.

And that search colors everything about Artemis and the Gateway. For example, even in its final form, the outpost in orbit will be decidedly antiquated compared to the $ 100 billion giant that currently surrounds Earth, which presents more living space than a six-room house.

"To be clear: we are not building the International Space Station around the moon," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday during an Internet speech at the Florida Institute of Technology.

"That is not our goal here, we, as a nation, do not want to get stuck, with all our resources going to the Moon," he added. "Our goal is, ultimately, to move to Mars and not get trapped on the surface of the moon."

Mike Wall's book on the search for extraterrestrial life. "Out there"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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