- policy recommendations for the current administration -


The current plan (The Artemis Program) envisions NASA and international partner crew being launched in an Orion capsule on top of the government's SLS rocket to the Gateway mini-station in lunar orbit. They transfer from the Orion capsule into the Gateway and from the Gateway into a reusable lunar lander. From there they will descend to the lunar surface where they will conduct a short scientific mission. When done, they will ascend in their lander back to the Gateway where they'll re-enter the Orion capsule to return to Earth. The most newsworthy accomplishment for the US will be that the first woman to step on the Moon will be American. Later missions would be of increasing duration and the plan is to establish a permanent base (probably mostly scientific in nature) with the same partner countries as we have on the International Space Station.

But, is this the best that can be accomplished with our human spaceflight program?

There is a huge, historic prize to be seized if they do it right. At some point, humanity will begin to move off Earth. In the future, people will look back and point to the very first people who moved off Earth indefinitely as when it all began.

If we return to the Moon using the right approach, we can knowingly be writing history at the level of Christopher Columbus or Plymouth Rock. Whichever administration chooses to start this process will have a JFK-type legacy of setting forth that vision.

It is very dangerous to the Initial Crew and the Program to rotate crew more than we have to. During the Shuttle era, we lost 18 astronauts launching and returning crew. So it makes sense for the crew to remain for as long as their biomedical indicators remain below a return threshold. If they can remain for more than 18 months (likely) then typically (as with the military) having the crew with their spouses would be ideal.

Since the Initial Crew could remain on the Moon indefinitely, it matters historically whether they are a government astronaut going for just a science sortie or whether they are "private" company workers going with their spouse, having sold their homes on Earth, and moving to the Moon to stay for as long as they can. If the Artemis Program seeks to seize the historic prize then the Initial Crew should be private workers. The functional reason for private workers should go first is that it makes sense for transportation services to be provided by commercial companies. And, as soon as we can, we should be attempting to telerobotically harvest lunar polar ice for propellant so that the landers can be refueled and reused thereby significantly reducing the cost for the astronauts and other companies to go to the Moon.

The first permanent crew should be private workers because of the commercial infrastructure needed and the historic significance that settlement represents.

Next: The Lunar Gateway