A moon base could be operational by 2022, according to an ambitious plan set out by NASA experts made public on Thursday.
The base would cost around $10 billion, a fairly small amount compared to the near $170 billion in today’s prices it cost the US government to finance the Apollo missions that sent 12 men into space.
The $10 billion projection includes returning to the lunar surface and establishing the first extra-terrestrial human outpost.
When the cost of a short stay on the Moon drops into the tens of millions of dollars per person, it starts to tap into the same market that has given us private spaceflight participants to the International Space Station.Chris McKay
According to NASA, the base would serve as a centre of scientific experimentation, as well as having the potential of a refueling station for missions deeper into the solar system. It could also be used as a commercial mining station.
The cost of the mission was calculated during a 2014 collaboration between NASA and experts at Harvard University, with the details published in the New Space Journal.
Chris McKay, an astrobiologist for NASA, wrote: "For a variety of very good reasons, it is time to go back to this moon, this time to stay, and funding is no longer the main hurdle.”
"When the cost of a short stay on the Moon drops into the tens of millions of dollars per person, it starts to tap into the same market that has given us private spaceflight participants to the International Space Station," he added.
"The presence of a government base is also the presence of a customer on the Moon - a factor that can stimulate the development of services, supplies, and technology to the benefit of all," said McKay.
According to the research, the base could support up to 10 astronauts for more than a year using technologies already in existence. Although the US has shown little appetite for returning to the lunar surface, the European Space Agency and China and have both expressed a desire to once again put a man on the moon.