Hovering moon base may be on NASA’s horizon

November 16, 2012

Artist’s concept of astronauts in an Orion capsule helping direct robotic teleoperations on the moon’s farside. (credit: Lockheed Martin)

NASA is considering plans for a hovering moon base parked in orbit about 60,000 kilometers from the moon’s far side, at Lagrange point 2 (EML-2)New Scientist reports.

There, the combined gravity of Earth and the moon would tug on a spacecraft with exactly the force needed for it to hover near the moon without spending fuel. This might assist human missions to an asteroid or to Mars — both on the list of NASA goals.

Asked about the spaceport, NASA officials would only say the agency is working towards sending a capsule to loop around the moon in 2017 and a manned mission to lunar orbit in 2021.

An EML-2 spaceport could also allow astronauts on the base to explore the moon using robots controlled in real time. The three-second delay for radio signals to travel round-trip between Earth and the moon makes directly controlling a lunar rover from our home planet impractical. “It’s as if you were driving drunk,” says Lester. But EML-2 is close enough to the moon to erase that obstacle.

Last week NASA completed a test of such technology when an astronaut on the International Space Station drove a toy rover on Earth via the agency’s interplanetary internet.

Similar strategies could be used on Mars, as either a prelude to or a substitute for landing humans on the surface. Having a telepresence in space could also take human minds to places where our bodies can’t go.

“We could send human beings into orbit around [Saturn's moon] Titan and they could do virtual scuba diving in the methane lakes,” Lester says. “When you think about doing exploration that way, all of a sudden there are many more destinations for human spaceflight than there were before.”