moon rover

Nasa wants to send robots to the Moon in 2019 before manned mission

Image credit: Dreamstime

Nasa wants to send robot explorers to the Moon as a preliminary step before a planned manned mission that would be the first since 1972.

According to Nasa official Cheryl Warner, a series of lunar missions will be launched from next year aimed at developing the capacity for a return to the moon.

Nasa will work with private companies, which have not yet been chosen, on the missions, Warner said.

The manned mission is expected to take place in the next 10 years and would represent the first time a human has stepped foot on the Moon in over 50 years since the Apollo 17 mission.

While the Apollo missions, including the 1969 Moon landing, were partly driven by a desire to maintain the appearance of technological superiority to the Soviet Russians and were heavily bankrolled by Congress as a result, this impetus isn’t as strong in the modern era.

In the closing days of the Apollo programme, Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt aggressively lobbied for a manned landing on the far side of the Moon, targeting the far side Tsiolkovskiy crater.

Schmitt's ambitious proposal included the launch into lunar orbit of special communications satellites based on the existing TIROS satellites to allow contact with the astronauts during their powered descent and lunar surface operations.

The plans were ultimately rejected due to a lack of funding and added risk and humans have not been back to the Moon since.

US President Donald Trump in December signed a directive that he said would enable astronauts to return to the Moon and eventually lead a mission to Mars. Last month he ordered the government to review regulations on commercial space flights.

Since the 1970s, US efforts to explore beyond the Earth’s orbit have largely focused on remote spacecraft that do not have human crew members, though American presidents have repeatedly raised the idea of sending human explorers back to the Moon or further.

President George W Bush in 2004 said humans would return to the Moon by 2020. His successor, President Barack Obama, said in 2016 the United States would send humans to Mars by the 2030s.

Last week Nasa’s Opportunity rover lost contact with the Earth while a gigantic dust storm covering at least a quarter of the surface of Mars blots out the Sun. 

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