NASA Scientists Reveal How They'll Send People Back to the Moon in 2024 | 22 Words

NASA, our history-making space agency, has announced some pretty big plans for the next few years. Here's the short of it: NASA is sending more astronauts to the moon. Beyond that, they've got some big plans for that moon landing--plans that stretch far beyond the lunar surface!

So to expand on that exciting announcement, NASA went and did a Reddit AMA. Interested Redditors went and asked their burning questions on when, how, and why NASA would be making this momentous moon trip. And NASA's experts had answers! Keep reading to see NASA's grand plans in detail, and learn about space travel from our country's most knowledgeable source. America's five-year galactic roadmap might just surprise you!

In 2024, NASA plans to return to the moon.

And in light of that, NASA officials took to Reddit and explained their plans to the general public. Isn't this way easier than the first time we went to the moon?!

NASA began the Reddit thread with a foreword.

This mission, supported by a recent budget amendment, will send American astronauts to the lunar South Pole. Working with U.S. companies and international partners, NASA has its sights on returning to the Moon to uncover new scientific discoveries and prepare the lunar surface for a sustained human presence.

Ask us anything about our plans to return to the lunar surface, what we hope to achieve in this next era of space exploration and how we will get it done! -nasa

Let's introduce the people who gave answers:

NASA's participants are:
  • Lindsay Aitchison, Space Technologist

  • Dr. Daniel Moriarty III, Postdoctoral Lunar Scientist

  • Marshall Smith, Director, Human Lunar Exploration Programs

  • LaNetra Tate, Space Tech Program Executive

So let's start rolling through the results of this Q&A!

Question: Why should we have confidence that a goal like 2024 is realistic? -AstroManishKR

Happy to be here! We had a plan for 2028 that involved decent element tests in 2023/2024, a full non-crewed test in 2026 and a crewed mission in 2028. The 2028 plan would not have required an increase in NASA's budget. Moving up to 2024, however, is doable with the amended budget request and follow on funding which will be needed in the remaining years. Technically building all the required systems will be challenging, but NASA is used big challenges.

-Marshall Smith

Question: What kind of experiments are planned for the surface mission and what is the expected duration of the mission going to be?

NASA is currently trying to optimize the science return from the 2024 mission, given the constraints of a relatively small payload and fast turnaround time. At this point, there have been no official decisions made regarding instrumentation and experiments. -Daniel Moriarty

Dr. Moriarty provided an in-depth idea of what they'd be looking for on the moon.

As a lunar scientist, I certainly have a few opinions about this! From the Apollo missions, we've established the incredible importance of collecting diverse samples from the lunar surface. With returned samples, we can perform analyses using any instrument in any terrestrial lab on our home planet - this is a lot more efficient than carting a bunch of mass spectrometers and electron microprobes to the Moon! -DM

There's a reason NASA is going to a new spot on the moon.

I'm guessing that a lot of the instruments we bring in 2024 are going to be geared towards identifying and collecting interesting samples (handheld spectrometers, hand lenses, shovels, core tubes, sample bags, etc.). The South Pole is geochemically very different than all of the Apollo sites, and samples we return from there could tell us a lot about the lunar mantle, funky volcanic products, and the poorly-understood differences between the lunar nearside and farside. -DM

Moriarty also had a rough idea of mission length.

A seismometer would also be cool, using moonquakes to help us peer into the lunar interior! This could supplement great seismic data from the Apollo missions.

I believe that this mission is going to be fairly short (a few days, perhaps), but I haven't heard anything official yet.

-DM

What data do you hope to gain from the new moon mission that may help with going to Mars? -AstroManishKR

Really interesting question! Preparedness for Mars exploration is one of the major themes guiding the imminent lunar missions. There are a number of ways that developing technologies and geological understanding for lunar missions enable future exploration of Mars. It's a lot easier to get to the Moon than Mars, which means that technologies we'll need to explore Mars can much more easily be developed and tested on the Moon. -DM

Yep: future moon missions will also be helpful to prepare human exploration of Mars!

For instance, I can imagine a scenario where the Moon functions as a laboratory for testing new spacesuits or habitatation structures in dusty, low-gravity, low-atmosphere environments.  -DM

Habitation on Mars sounds so much like sci-fi, and yet it's totally within the realm of possibility.

Another important technology to develop is the ability to extract and use resources on the surface of another planet. On the Moon, we can test ways to extract and purify lunar water, which could help us reduce the amount of water that would need to be supplied from Earth. We could perfect this technology on the nearby Moon before relying on it for Mars! -DM

What's a technology you are using today that would have been the biggest help if they had it back at the time of the original moon landings? -mareszko

Apollo helped bring about the computer revolution, and I look forward to seeing what becomes possible as we come up with new space technologies in this digital age! We are partnering with DoD on High-Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC). It is one current technology that addresses computation performance, energy management, and fault tolerance. The entire system will be about 100 times faster than today's common computers processors. During the Apollo program, we used a digital computer onboard each Apollo command and lunar module. This new technology can perform 15 billion instructions per second, compared to just 85,000 instructions per second of the Apollo Guidance Computer. -LaNetra (STMD)

NASA has said it wants to go to the moon sustainably this time, though all of the lander concepts I've seen still use 2 stages with an expendable landing stage and an ascent module. How long before we can expect to see lunar single stage to orbit landers with full reusability? -jay19167

The size of your lander is greatly dependent upon what you want to do at your destination. Apollo was limited to short stays and the equatorial region of the Moon. Also, it was not reusable. To return to the Moon in a sustainable fashion to be able to explore it we need to carry significantly more fuel and consumables. This makes single-stage landers impractical. As there are no rockets today powerful enough to launch a single stage lander. Current launch vehicles can support two and three stage options. The key to sustainability is to enable these systems to be reusable.

There are concepts and systems in the discussion that could approach a single stage capability, however, it will be many years before these systems are a reality.

- Marshall

Some people were pretty skeptical of all this.

How do you expect to get back to the moon by 2024 when commercial crew is taking over 7 years just to get back to LEO and SLS is many years behind schedule despite a massive amount of funding? I'm all for working on the goal, but 2024 seems hilariously unrealistic. -coldfusionman

But NASA had an answer.

There are two types of risk that need to be addressed when attempting to achieve a goal. First is a technical risk. I believe that NASA and the space industry working together is capable of addressing the technical risk and making the schedule. The Apollo program achieved did not have a commercial base and in nine years landed humans on the surface of the Moon. We know a lot more and have a strong commercial base that we can leverage off of to achieve our goal by 2024. It will take more funding than currently in NASA's budget.

-Marshall

And for the second risk:

This leads to the other risk which is political. We as a nation have to have the will to achieve this bipartisan goal through various administrations, changing budgets and changing priorities. Setting an aggressive goal limits this political risk.

Yes. This is challenging, but we are up to the task.

-Marshall

Do you believe NASA is open to using potential commercial launchers like starship for manned/unmanned missions? -elemental_pineapple

The 2024 plan includes using commercial launch vehicles to deliver the Gateway and the Human Landing System as well as science experiments launched under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. In addition commercial launch vehicles will be required to deliver surface assets such as habitats, rovers and consumables. The Space Launch System will be used to deliver the Orion spacecraft and crew to the Gateway for the human missions. Currently the SLS is the only vehicle capable of launching Orion for long duration, deep space exploration.

- Marshall

Some people skipped over skeptical and went right to fatalistic.

They're not going to be ready in time. And the obviously political motives for the schedule pressure are going to end up killing people. -thereisnocenter

Here's what NASA said to that:

I am friends with a number of astronauts, and I would not put them on a vehicle that I didn't feel was safe. Everybody at NASA considers crew safety paramount from the program manager down to the machine technician assembling the systems. I just personally reviewed the requirements for human rated certification, and we will work with the landing system providers to ensure that the vehicle is human rated, meaning safe for crewed missions.

- Marshall

I've seen some things about possibly 3D printing with lunar regolith. Do you think NASA would possibly want to send a test 3d printer to see how feasible it would be to actually 3d print structures on the Moon or is that not a direction you want to go? -19jperkins

\

We partnered with Made In Space to send and test a 3D printer on the space station. We just delivered a Refabricator (that recycles plastic to print parts) to the space station as well. Much of what we learn on the space station, as well as testing on the ground, will help us design a system that we could utilize on the Moon to print both tools and infrastructure. More info below! All this technology feeds forward to inform us how to do more with different materials (plastics, metals, lunar soil) - LaNetra (STMD)

Are these missions envisioned as short stays at different locations like Apollo or repeated visits to the same location with the goal of building up a base, more like ISS? -RoyMustangela

We're sending up science instruments on a Commercial Landing Payload Systems and we'll be studying different parts of the Moon. Focusing on the South Pole. Our initial missions will be short duration stays focused on the South Pole or areas that show promising scientific and resource value. Depending upon what we learn in early missions, we will decide where we would like to focus our energy either in habitation or mobility (rovers).

- Marshall

What is special about the South Pole and the surrounding area? Can you elaborate? -VijayG619

The South Pole is exciting because not only are we going back to the moon, but we're sending humans where they have never been before! We already know a lot about this region because robotic missions have revealed important information about its environment. Through thousands of orbits in the last decade, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has collected the precise information about the South Pole region, offering scientists precise details about its topography, temperature, and locations of likely frozen water – and water is critical to future exploration missions. -Lindsay

Serious question, how can someone get on one of those crews to go to the moon? Have they already been selected and are training or are they yet to be decided? Thanks! -EnemyFriendEnemy

Thanks for joining in our conversation!

The crew for the next lunar mission will be selected from our NASA astronaut corps. The Astronaut Office is already working with the engineers and scientists to conduct early tests on systems and concepts to get a jump start on training, but we haven't selected the specific women and men for the first Artemis mission just yet.

-Lindsay

What are you going to do about moon dust in the spacesuits joints? -Thorpester

We learned a lot from the Apollo missions on how dust affects the durability of space suits. NASA is looking at a combination of passive coatings and new materials to prevent dust from collecting on the suits as well as more exotic approaches such as electrostatic pulses to actively repel the dust real-time - Lindsay

One person went for a funnier question.

Question for Dr. Moriarty aren't you afraid of Sherlock thwarting your plans? No for real what would be the first stage of preparing the surface for human inhabitants? -HighCalamity

And Dr. Moriarty had a response for both.

DRATS! Foiled again!

I don't think we're going to be able to change anything about the surface of the Moon much. Instead, I think it makes sense to work within some of the structures and resources that are already there. For instance, it could be useful to establish a base near a permanently-shadowed polar region in order to take advantage of surface water that's there. Alternatively, it could be interesting to set up shop within a pre-existing lava tube, which could provide astronauts with some shielding from temperature variations and incoming solar radiation. There are lots of cool possibilities!

-DM aka Sherlock's archnemesis

Will there be another AMA from the Moon? -throwaway2xyz2

Dude - that would be awesome! Anything is possible with sustained exploration... but an AMA from Mars might not be as much fun with that comm delay - up to 22min one way!

-Lindsay

What's the long term goal regarding a sustained human presence? i.e. What are the main benefits? -SgtDreadnought

The primary goal of going to the Moon is to test the technologies and strategies needed for human exploration of Mars. The farther humans venture into space, the more critical it becomes to manufacture materials and products with local resources. The Moon will allow us to practice that increased crew autonomy as the astronauts learn to work with robotic partners and "live off the land" with less dependence on Mission Control.

- Lindsay

And then, the hopeful effects of this mission back on Earth.

Additional benefits of exploring the moon are that it helps to expand US global economic impact by growing US industry and international partnerships, and it will provide opportunities for groundbreaking science and technology development which will inspire the next generation to careers in STEM. -Lindsay

Do you believe that the current NASA budget is sufficient to fund the Moon 2024 mission? And what NASA programs do you think are likely to suffer as a result if it's not? -RocketRundown

The current NASA budget is approximately $21 billion per year and require a plus up to fund our return to the Moon to stay. NASA submitted a $1.6 billion dollar amendment for FY20. This is a down payment to get us started and hold to a 2024 schedule. Budget for future years will be worked throughout the following year.

This budget does not impact other science and technology programs.

-Marshall

I was wondering what experiments you have planned that would not be possible with rovers or automated bots. In fact, since the communication delay to the moon is not huge, I would assume rovers could even be controlled from Earth. So what would a human be able to do in addition to what rovers can already do? -ifcarscouldspeak

Great question - this is a subject of frequent discussion across planetary science. From the Apollo missions, we saw the huge benefits of having boots on the ground. For instance, Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt was a trained geologist at the time of the mission. The insight he provided from the lunar surface was invaluable in terms of identifying what samples to prioritize and establishing the geological context for those samples. In general, humans offer much better decision-making, intuition, and mobility than current rovers are capable of.

I think there are huge benefits from a coordinated program of the rover and human explorers. Rovers excel at exploring new, dangerous, and distant areas. Going forward, I think there is going to be great synergy between rovers and humans in our continuing exploration of the solar system.

- DM

How many astronauts are gonna be there simultaneously? And how long will they stay? -Olasg

The initial missions will have up to four astronauts going to the Gateway with at least two descending to the surface for up to 6.5 days.

-Lindsay

What path of study and career have you taken to get to work on such a project? -Ziomax25

Great question!

For my undergrad degree, I studied Astronomy and Physics at the University of Massachusetts (GO UMASS)

I was interested in getting into something a little more "hands-on," but I still wanted to work in space-related fields. One of my professors suggested planetary geology, and it was perfect. I got to work with power tools and environmental vacuum chambers and play in the dirt. I studied lunar geology at Brown University for grad school.

Before NASA, I taught oceanography and geology at the Community College of Rhode Island. I think it's important to communicate how exciting and important our Earth is, and I did my best to communicate this to my students!

-DM

Are lunar spacesuits going to be ready for a 2024 landing? -thereisnocenter

Yes. Space suits are critical to our plans for human lunar exploration. NASA has been investing in surface space suit technology for several years, including test runs with multiple prototype designs in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and vacuum testing of an exploration portable life support system. We're still evaluating specific design options, but the technologies are ready for integration to meet a 2024 mission. - Lindsay

And finally, let's close with something lovely:

I just wanted to say thank you for the important work you're doing. You all represent the best humanity has to offer. You are the giants on whose shoulders future generations will stand upon. Thank you. -ConqueefStador And the response:

Thanks ConqueefStador. It was a great video and it was so exciting to be in the video. It is so exciting that We Are Going! To the Moon!

Technology Drives Exploration!!!!!

- LaNetra (STMD) Share this fascinating news with all your space-loving friends!