for National Geographic News
NASA plans to construct a solar-powered outpost at one the moon's poles, officials with the U.S. space agency announced today.
The lunar base is expected to be permanently staffed by 2024.
The outpost concept was chosen over a competing strategy similar to the 1960s and '70s Apollo program—a series of brief trips to the moon.
The moon base will allow for sustained human presence on the moon's surface and help the agency prepare for future missions to Mars and beyond, explained NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.
"It also enables global partnerships, allows for maturation of in situ resource utilization, and results in a path that is much quicker in terms of future exploration," Dale said at a press conference.
The announcement was part of NASA's congressionally mandated strategy to meet U.S. President George W. Bush's "Vision for U.S. Space Exploration," a plan outlined in 2004.
(Related: "NASA Budget Diverts Funds From Science to Spaceships" [February 8, 2006].)
The Bush plan includes returning humans to the moon no later than 2020. The goal is to take advantage of the moon's resources and to establish a launching point for further explorations.
(Photo gallery: "NASA's New Mission to the Moon.")
Dale added that the space agency is looking to international partners in the private and public sectors to participate in the construction and use of the moon base.
Once Dale and more than a thousand experts from 14 countries had decided to build a base, the obvious question was where.
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