U.S. Debates Next Lunar Step

July 21, 2014 by staff 

U.S. Debates Next Lunar Step, Forty-five years after the first Apollo lunar landing, the United States remains divided about the moon’s role in future human space exploration.

Ten more U.S. astronauts followed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s July 20, 1969, visit to the moon before the Apollo program was canceled in 1972. No one has been back since.

The most recent effort to return astronauts to the moon ended in 2010 when the Obama White House axed an underfunded program of the previous administration called Constellation. Instead, NASA was directed to begin planning for a human expedition to an asteroid.

That initiative, slated for 2025, also includes a robotic precursor mission to redirect a small asteroid or piece of a larger asteroid into a high lunar orbit.

Astronauts would then rendezvous with the relocated asteroid and pick up samples for return to Earth. The missions are intended as steppingstones for eventual human expeditions to Mars.

This path, however, is fraught with technological cul-de-sacs that do not directly contribute to radiation protection, landing systems, habitats and other projects needed to build the road to Mars, a National Research Council panel concluded in June.

After a three-year study of different options for human space exploration, the panel said a more viable and sustainable path would be to return to the moon.

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