During the Apollo Program, the Moon was the end goal. Today, it’s just part of the goal. If everything goes right, the Moon will be the gateway to deep space. NASA hasn’t returned to the lunar surface since the final Apollo mission. But in the next decade, the space agency will try for a triumphant return to the Moon and beyond.
In 2017, NASA announced the National Space Exploration Campaign. With support from commercial and international partners, this initiative will be an attempt at a lunar revival. The campaign calls for a series of complex missions that will launch as early as 2020. Kicking things off will be Exploration Mission-1, an uncrewed flight in which Orion will travel hundreds of thousand kilometers past the Moon. Then, Exploration Mission-2 will send the first crewed spacecraft to flyby the Moon, which hasn’t happened since 1972. The following missions will include a lunar landing and the cosmic construction of a new space station that will orbit the Moon. NASA says the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will support four astronauts for up to 60 days and will act as a scientific hub to test new technology, study the effects of the deep space environment on living organisms, and prepare for a future mission to Mars.