NASA hasn’t been to the moon since 1972, but starting in 2021, the agency plans to make trips to the moon every year through 2030.
The space agency laid out the plans in its Budget Estimates document for 2021. The first Artemis mission would be in 2021, but it would be uncrewed. Then, in 2022, a test crew flight will happen, followed by the Gateway space station, which is an outpost that would orbit the moon.
From 2024 until 2030, crewed Artemis missions would once again put humans on the moon, including the first woman to set foot there, which NASA has said it aims to accomplish in 2024.
The reason for the sudden refocusing on the moon after years of no missions is to gain experience on the moon that would give way future human Mars exploration. NASA wants to test out things like how long-term human spaceflight affects astronaut health, establishing out to live sustainably on another planetary body, and gaining experiences to develop the systems and operations that would be needed to explore the more difficult surface of Mars.
Because of the agency’s sites on the moon, NASA’s predicted budgets for the coming years reflect these moon missions. In 2021, NASA predicts a $25.2 billion budget, a $27.2 billion in 2022, and a whopping $28.6 billion in 2023.
The Moon-to-Mars campaign alone will set NASA back $12,371 million, which includes over $3 million for the development of a lunar Human Landing System, which will be the first funding for human landing since the Apollo missions.
This decade’s planned moon missions give a glimpse into what NASA has been working on with aerospace companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. In November, the agency announced 14 commercial space companies who will work as part of the Artemis program.
The companies will first have to bid on proposals to provide deliveries to the lunar surface via NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which is part of the Artemis program. Those selected will use their technology to land a range of equipment on the lunar surface beginning in 2021.
Aside from focusing on the technology to get to the moon, NASA is also looking at how humans can make habitats on the moon once they actually get there. One option is using mushrooms as building blocks to grow around an already-established framework, which could provide a potential solution to efficient space construction.