NASA’s Mars mission includes a year-long trip around the moon

NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars could involve astronauts spending a year in orbit around the moon, establishing a “deep-space gateway” for future missions to the red planet.  

That’s according to Greg Williams, from the space agency’s human exploration division, speaking in Washington DC at the Human to Mars Summit. As reported by Space (the website, not the universe), Williams outlined the first two stages of NASA’s mission to get humans on the surface of Mars. Both will involve our pockmarked, tide-loving friend, the moon.

Phase one will encompass at least five missions to cislunar space; i.e., space between the Earth and the moon, including orbits around the moon. The plan is for four of these flights to be manned, with an aim to deliver parts to build a “deep-space gateway”, including a working crew habitat, a logistics module, airlocks for visiting ships and a robotic arm for repairing parts without the need of human engineers. All of this will take place between 2018 and 2026.

If all of that goes well, and the robot repair module doesn’t become some type of one-armed space-tyrant, then phase two will begin in 2027. This will initially centre around an uncrewed mission to deliver the Deep Space Transport vehicle, which will eventually be used to carry a crew to Mars. Not yet, though. First, NASA will put astronauts on what it’s calling a year-long “shakedown cruise” around the moon, referring to the Navy practise of testing ships before they’re properly put to work.

Williams did note that the space agency is looking for a new way to describe this year-long moon-venture, admitting that “if you have a Sicilian mafia background, [shakedown] has a different connotation”.


Whether or not NASA’s astronauts will be extorting money from small moon-based businesses, a year should be enough time to test the Deep Space Transport vehicle before sending it to Mars around 2030. “If we could conduct a year-long crewed mission on this Deep Space Transport in cislunar space, we believe we will know enough that we could then send this thing, crewed, on a 1,000-day mission to the Mars system and back,” Williams said.

Or they could 3D-print a moon base, I guess.

You can read a fuller breakdown of NASA’s plans on this slideshow.

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