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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 01:17 GMT
US plans permanent base on Moon
Nasa artist's impression of Moon base

US space agency Nasa has said it plans to start work on a permanently-occupied base on the Moon after astronauts begin flying back there in 2020.

The base is likely to be built on one of the Moon's poles and will serve as a science centre and possible stepping stone for manned missions to Mars.

The US has already said it plans to build a new lunar spacecraft to succeed the last Apollo mission in 1972.

Funds will be moved from space shuttle flights, due to be scrapped in 2010.

The structure of the base and the exact duties of the astronauts stationed there have not been decided.

Nor is it clear when the base will begin functioning.

Lunar outpost

"We're going for a base on the moon," Scott "Doc" Horowitz, Nasa's associate administrator for exploration, said.

The agency's deputy head, Shana Dale, is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that the "fundamental lunar approach" will be very different to earlier Moon missions.

Artist's impression of the Orion lunar spacecraft
A lunar spacecraft has already been commissioned by Nasa

Nasa has elected to build a lunar outpost rather than operate brief trips to the satellite as it did in the 1960s.

Nasa is also expected to ask other countries - and businesses - to help it build the base.

The permanent base will be built near one of the two poles, as these are felt to have a moderate climate and more sunlight - essential if the base is to use solar energy.

"It's exciting," Shana Dale told the Reuters news agency. "We don't know as much about the polar regions."

According to Reuters, funds for building the lunar base will be diverted from the space shuttle programme, which is to be phased out by 2010.

After the Columbia space shuttle accident, US President George W Bush announced plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.

Nasa announced in August that the Lockheed Martin Corporation will build the next US spaceship to take humans to the Moon.

Infographic, BBC
(1) The heavy-lift Ares 5 rocket blasts off from Earth carrying a lunar lander and a "departure stage"
(2) Several days later, astronauts launch on an Ares 1 rocket inside their Orion vehicle (CEV)
(3) The Orion docks with the lander and departure stage in Earth orbit and then heads to the Moon
(4) Having done its job of boosting the Orion and lunar lander on their way, the departure stage is jettisoned
(5) At the Moon, the astronauts leave the Orion and enter the lander for the trip to the lunar surface
(6) After exploring the lunar landscape for seven days, the crew blasts off in a portion of the lander
(7) In Moon orbit, they re-join the waiting robot-minded Orion and begin the journey back to Earth
(8) On the way, the service component of the Orion is jettisoned. This leaves just the crew capsule to enter the atmosphere
(9) A heatshield protects the capsule; parachutes bring it down on dry land, probably in California

Computer generated images of Nasa's planned Moon base

Lockheed to build Nasa 'Moonship'
31 Aug 06 |  Science/Nature
Europe's lunar vision blossoms
10 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature
Nasa spending to support shuttle
07 Feb 06 |  Science/Nature

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