Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Far Side of the Moon

A NASA proposal would station a deep-space human outpost at the L-2 Legrangian Point. Image source: Wikipedia.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that NASA has sent to the White House a proposal to station a deep-space outpost on the far side of the Moon.

Top NASA officials have picked a leading candidate for the agency's next major mission: construction of a new outpost that would send astronauts farther from Earth than at any time in history. The so-called "gateway spacecraft" would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small astronaut crew and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars.

The outpost would be at a location known as "L-2," a reference to the Legrangian Points calculated in the 18th Century by Italian-French mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange. At a Legrangian point, the combined gravitational pull of two large masses provides precisely the centripetal force required to orbit with them.

Unmentioned in the article is that L-2 will also be the location of the James Webb Space Telescope. The outpost could provide a base for telescope servicing missions. UPDATE 5:30 PM EDT — As many have pointed out, the JWST will be at the Sun-Earth L-2. The outpost will be at the Earth-Moon L-2. Some days, you should wait until you fully awaken before you write.

UPDATE September 25, 2012MSNBC's Alan Boyle published an in-depth article about the Sentinel article and its implications, including a discussion with Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Aldrin's vision calls for NASA to lead in the construction of the infrastructure needed for space transport beyond Earth orbit, while leaving the development of facilities on the moon's surface to commercial ventures. A human-tended station at EML-1 or EML-2 could help direct the robotic construction of habitats and factories on the moon, to be occupied at a later time by humans.

"Those are steppingstones in confidence and training for interplanetary spacecraft," Aldrin said.

The eventual goal would be to have a human-tended station on the Martian moon Phobos, directing robots to build facilities for permanent residents on the Red Planet. And then? "We make a commitment to permanence," Aldrin explained. "It's like the Pilgrims on the Mayflower."

UPDATE September 25, 2012 5:15 PM EDTMarcia Smith at posted a report that NASA has issued a comment about the Sentinel story. It reads as a non-denial denial.

“NASA is executing President Obama's ambitious space exploration plan that includes missions around the moon, to asteroids, and ultimately putting humans on Mars. There are many options - and many routes - being discussed on our way to the Red Planet. In addition to the moon and an asteroid, other options may be considered as we look for ways to buy down risk - and make it easier - to get to Mars. We have regular meetings with OMB, OSTP, Congress, and other stakeholders to keep them apprised of our progress on our deep space exploration destinations. This concept is a part of the Voyages document that we mentioned in an earlier Update posted on in June:" Refer to page 26 of the chapter titled, “Habitation and Destination Capabilities.”

The partisan rhetoric in the opening sentence is a bit over-the-top, in my opinion. Even for an election year. NASA isn't supposed to be partisan.


  1. "Unmentioned in the article is that L-2 will also be the location of the James Webb Space Telescope."

    I first thought his too but then I remembered that JWST will be at the L-2 for the Sun-Earth system. The gateway would be at the L-2 in the Earth-Moon system.

  2. It looks like thet're talking about the Earth-Moon L2 point. I thought JWS was going to the Sun-Earth L2?

  3. My bad. Too early and too distracted this morning to write coherently. :-) Thanks.