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November 9th, 2012
08:24 AM ET

Could moon outpost propel space travel? Fmr. Astronaut Leroy Chiao weighs in

What if astronauts were to return to the moon? Decades after man first landed on the moon, Space.com is reporting that it’s possible.

A space policy expert told the website that plans are in the works by NASA to travel back to the vicinity of the moon and create a manned outpost there in order to learn more about future deep-space travel. The manned outpost could eventually be used as a staging area for future missions to the moon. This morning on "Early Start," fmr. Astronaut and International Space Station Commander Leroy Chiao explains.

The specific location NASA has in mind for this outpost is an area of space beyond the moon called the "earth moon libration point" or E-M-l-2... The spot is further than any manned mission has gone before. Chiao explains that “a libration point is the point where all the forces on a space craft or an object are pretty much in balance and so it would take very little fuel to keep an object in that area.” “If you’re gonna build a station at one of the points between the earth and the moon, or beyond the moon,” Chiao says, “you would pick a libration point.”

But this location would be far more dangerous to an astronaut's health. “The radiation environment is much, much harsher,” and “you worry about solar flares...which could be acutely lethal.” So Chiao thinks building a manned tended base on the moon makes more sense.

The challenges in having a base beyond the moon are biomedical issues and figuring out “how do you keep astronauts healthy in that environment.”

“A station like that would help you to study that, but you’d also get the same effect on the moon,” Chiao says. “If you build a crew-tended base on the moon, you could also test other operational things. You could test your hardware, your habitats, your space suits, your rovers, operations concepts.”

This option would be more expensive though, Chiao notes. Tax payers would pay for the manned station. “NASA’s budget historically has been right around or less than 1% of the federal budget,” Chiao explains, however. “Even with that we’re able to do what we do.”

Filed under: Moon • NASA • Space travel
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