NASA gathering Moon colonization ideas

NASA today put out a call for proposals on how to best develop space settlement technology. Each proposal is expected to offer innovative, meaningful, and enduring research and technology development activities that could enable space colonization or space settlement by providing a sustained human presence on the Moon as a stepping stone to future exploration of Mars, NASA stated.

The space agency is offering about $1 million grants under the Ralph Steckler/Space Grant Space Colonization Research and Technology Development program that has been established to help support a broad range of human activity in space that, for the most part, is not reliant on Earth's resources NASA said.

The late Ralph Steckler, a successful assistant film director, maintained a lifelong interest in space colonization and left NASA  a portion of his estate "for the colonization of space because [he believed] this is for the betterment of mankind."

NASA has defined three aims for the Steckler/Space Grant:

  • To make a meaningful contribution to enabling the colonization or the settlement of space;
  • To leverage activities, where appropriate, through teaming and resource sharing; and
  • To support space colonization efforts in innovative and enduring ways based on Mr. Steckler's vision.

Building a successful lunar facility is no small task as you might well imagine. NASA has outlined a number of items to consider including the development of system exploration elements such as: transportation vehicles (Launch Vehicle, Landers), habitation, rovers, power - solar vs. nuclear),  and proper communication technology. The architecture challenge is to assemble the best mix of elements so they work synergistically, NASA said. That includes how the facility would be built and delivered.  For example, should it be one big item or many smaller, modular containers that could be strapped together as needed?

The grants facilitate a small part of the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 that includes the following goals:

  • Return Americans to the Moon no later than 2020;
  • Launch the Crew Exploration Vehicle, Orion, no later than 2015;
  • Increase knowledge of the impacts of long-duration stays in space on the human body using the most appropriate facilities available, including the International Space Station.

NASA in June said it was looking for a few good lunar research ideas and is willing to pay $8 to $10 million for the effort.  NASA's Lunar Science Institute will handle the research proposals which should address the institute's core interests: science of the moon including objectives that meet NASA's future lunar exploration needs. NASA anticipates making five to seven awards, including one focused on exploration objectives. 

In August, NASA said it wanted help designing the outer space network it will use to back up future trips to the moon and perhaps beyond.  The space agency issued a broad Request for Information or RFI to solicit ideas from private companies and researchers interested in potentially providing communications and navigation services that would support the development of exploration, scientific and commercial capabilities on the moon over the next 25 years.

Such spending is challenging as the space agency faces a number of critical budget and technical decisions that could impact the long-term progress of its next generation space exploration technologies.

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