NASA Wants to Build a Lunar Outpost That Will One Day Take Us to Mars

Dan Hartman and Lara Kearney, part of NASA’s Lunar Gateway team, plan to help return humans to the Moon.
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Humans last set foot on the Moon in December 1972, capping off a wildly ambitious series of Apollo lunar landings that changed history on and off Earth. 

Though the worldwide spaceflight community has achieved many other milestones since that era, the dream of returning humans to the Moon has never faded. Now, with the Artemis program, NASA is leading a new effort to revive human exploration both on the lunar surface and in orbit. That effort involves the Lunar Gateway, a station that will circle the Moon and potentially serve as a stepping stone to Mars in the future.


“The 2024 to 2025 time period is when we plan to deploy the first initial components of the Gateway” in lunar orbit, said Dan Hartman, NASA’s Gateway program manager, in a Motherboard interview. “That allows us to go back to and from the Moon’s surface and come back up to the Gateway.”  

“We’ve done this before and the physics hasn’t changed, so those challenges are still there,” added Lara Kearney, NASA’s Lunar Gateway program deputy manager, referring to crewed Moon landings. “The real difference this time, as Dan mentioned, is to go long-term and go sustainably. Those are really where the challenges are: How do you go and keep a crew there for 30 days, 60 days, or longer?”

Many of these answers can be sourced from the International Space Station, which has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years, making it a goldmine of information about how to keep humans healthy in space over long periods. NASA is also partnering with many international space agencies and commercial companies, especially SpaceX, to pioneer the complex infrastructure that will be necessary for a 21st century Moon program.  

Artemis and the Gateway will also reflect a modern era in terms of representation: NASA has already committed to placing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon in the initial Artemis crews.  


“The leadership of women in our workplace is just natural,” said Hartman. “It’s commonplace. We just select the best and there’s plenty of women who meet that criteria.”

Astronauts are already being vetted for the first Artemis landing, which aims to place two humans on the lunar surface. The Gateway, which can house up to four astronauts, is scheduled to host its first crews toward the end of this decade. 

Successfully achieving these goals will be an enormous undertaking unto itself, but the Gateway team is also eyeing an even more challenging target: Mars. Assuming the station racks up many years of practice as a platform for Moon missions, it may one day evolve into a staging point for launching human missions to the red planet. 

“We can envision a long-term Gateway where we would have a potential transport habitat attached to Gateway where you learn how to live and work for long periods of time around the Moon, where you’re relatively closer to home, before you take that three-year trip on to Mars,” Kearney said. 

“It will be an opportunity to test out a lot of the life support systems that have to really become regenerative and self-contained for a Mars mission,” she added, “and I think you’ll see us testing those systems out on the Gateway around the Moon before we take on that really challenging Mars mission.”