Wait a minute!

NASA is trying to get its lunar act together, mustering up what’s needed early for human exploration of the Moon via the ongoing and evolving Artemis program.

But later comes the hard part: to harness the skills for a sustained and “live off the land” approach for a lunar base encampment.

Image credit: NASA

Working definition

But the term “sustainable” seems to be up for grabs.

For instance, the April release of the National Academies Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032 noted that NASA has used the word to describe one goal for human lunar exploration under the auspices of Artemis.

But sustainable has not yet been defined in this context, the Academies survey states. For that report, a working definition was crafted “that there are widely accepted reasons to continue human lunar exploration that justify the continued investment, commitment, and risk beyond a few missions.”

Artist’s view of two Artemis astronauts at work on the lunar surface.
Image credit: NASA

No mincing words

Meanwhile, the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) just published their findings from the group’s 2022 meeting. LEAG was established in 2004 to support NASA in providing analysis of scientific, technical, commercial, and operational issues in support of lunar exploration.

 

LEAG doesn’t mince words, but does so in a polite way.

“LEAG encourages NASA to clearly convey its plan for sustainable post-Artemis III exploration to the community forthwith and include specifically how it will result in an increase in the flight rate and extended human surface durations (i.e., Artemis Base Camp).”

Artistic depiction of NASA astronauts at the lunar south pole carrying out early work to establish an Artemis Base Camp.
Image credit: NASA

Single location

The LEAG report cautions that Artemis will not be truly sustainable “unless it includes a robust surface infrastructure and development strategy at a single location on the Moon to catalyze and enable commercial and exploration activities.”

Furthermore, while progress to date on the Artemis III mission is encouraging, adds the LEAG report, details of the “sustained” phase of the Artemis campaign “are nebulous to the broader community.”

Credit: NASA

Annual cadence

NASA’s current lunar outlook suggests a roughly annual cadence of missions of short (less than 30 days) duration on the surface of the Moon with an emphasis on future mobility (i.e., not for Artemis III), but this does not adequately address the goals set forth in the Lunar Exploration Roadmap, the LEAG findings note.

“Accordingly, LEAG urges NASA to articulate plans to enable the construction of the Artemis Base Camp and establishment of large-scale resource production by 2030, thereby supporting a permanent human presence on the lunar surface and growth of a vigorous cislunar economy.”

Read the LEAG report here: https://www.lpi.usra.edu/leag/reports/LEAG2022AnnualMeetingFindings_FINAL.pdf

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