As we’ve known for several months now, NASA is headed back to the Moon. The administration will be sending all manner of instruments to the lunar surface to study the natural satellite in greater detail, as well as prepare for the eventual return of a manned mission to the Moon.
Now, with a rough schedule for future launches being hashed out, NASA needs something to actually send to the Moon. You see, the whole “going back to the Moon” thing was kind of a last-second decision by NASA’s new Trump-appointed leadership. Rather than putting all their effort towards additional exploration of Mars and a future manned mission to the Red Planet, NASA now says that sending man back to the Moon will be the best way to prepare.
In preparing for a manned mission to head back to the Moon, NASA will send a number of unmanned missions there. Those missions need tools and instruments to perform experiments and make observations that will further NASA’s efforts.
“The strategy is that these early missions will help us prepare for more complex future missions such as searching for useable resources, building up a seismic network to understand the Moon’s internal structure, and studying the lunar mineralogy and chemistry to understand the Moon’s origins,” NASA’s Steve Clarke said in a statement. “NASA is also looking forward to supporting U.S. industry efforts to provide more commercial exploration services for multiple customers, including NASA.”
With a tight budget and even tighter timeline, NASA is looking for companies that want a piece of the lunar pie to produce their own hardware that NASA can then send to the Moon and share in any discoveries made.
As NASA notes, it’s been a while since it’s sent anything to the Moon, manned or otherwise. The last time a US spacecraft performed a soft landing on the Moon — probes shot directly into the Moon’s surface don’t really count — was in 1972. Getting back there isn’t exactly like riding a bike, but when NASA is ready in the next couple of years it hopes its commercial partners will step up to the plate with the tools to make the missions worthwhile.