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Nasa Could Be About To Announce Plans To Build A Moon Base (PICTURES)

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Suspicions are growing that Nasa will announce plans to build a hovering Moon base to act as a stepping-stone for manned missions to other planets.

Designed to orbit about 60,000 KM above the satellite's surface, the space station would be among the biggest and most advanced projects in the history of space exploration.

It is thought this 'gateway to the stars' might be confirmed in February, when the new Federal budget is likely to be announced.

Reports in New Scientist and Space.com, among other publications, suggest the announcement is closer than ever. And similar ideas were presented to Nasa by Boeing last year.

"Nasa has been evolving its thinking, and its latest charts have inserted a new element of cislunar/lunar gateway/Earth-moon L2 sort of stuff into the plan," George Washington University professor John Logsdon told Space.com.

"They've been holding off announcing that until after the election."

The Obama administration has previously said it wants to fund missions to place humans on asteroids and on Mars in the not ridiculously distant future. A Moon base would be a crucial stepping stone, experts say, allowing us to test deep space life-support systems, train astronauts and explore the surface of the Moon.

The base would be located at a Lagrange point, an area between the Earth and the Moon where the gravity between the two is balanced, allowing the base to hover near the Moon without using fuel.

The so-called EML-2 point is on the far side of the Moon, and is further than humans have ever gone in a space craft. It is not shielded from radiation by Earth's magnetic field, requiring new life-support protections for humans to survive.

It is thought the base could be built out of spare parts left over from the International Space Station.

So far Nasa isn't confirming anything, but said it remains committed to its stated plans to send a manned mission to orbit the Moon in 2021.

"NASA is executing the President's ambitious space exploration plan that includes missions around the moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars," spokesperson Rachel Kraft told New Scientist.

"There are a variety of routes and options being discussed to help build the knowledge and capabilities to get there, and other options may be considered as we look for ways to buy down risk."

The so-called 'Space Internet' which Nasa tested recently is also thought to hint at a future moon base - since such technology would be required to drive surface robots on the satellite in real time. Currently there is a delay of three seconds when communicating between the Earth and the surface of the Moon, making remote control difficult.

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