The Future Of Moon Missions

The Future Of Moon Missions

9:12am Jan 27, 2017
"Earthrise" a photograph of the Earth from the moon taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission.
NASA astronaut William Anders, 1968

SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem. 

NASA’s Apollo program successfully landed six spacecraft and twelve astronauts on the moon between 1961 and 1972. We collected amazing data, and engineered fantastic spacecraft, but then we stopped going! Ultimately the driver for our success was Cold War competition; the Space-Race. We wanted to get to the moon before the Russians did.

Mission accomplished!

In the near future, moon missions involving astronauts will take place on-board NASA’s Orion Spacecraft.

To lift a quote from the NASA web site:

“NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

To borrow a quote not found on NASA’s web site:

"The Orion capsule is what they’ve called Apollo on steroids."

That’s Jonathan Ward, volunteer NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, and author of two books about the Apollo missions.

(Shawn's Note : I spoke with Ward a bit about the late astronaut, Gene Cernan, who was the last person to walk on the moon. You can find audio from this discussion at the end of this blog.)



The first flight of an Orion space capsule with astronauts aboard is planned some time between 2021 and 2023. That would probably send astronauts into a figure 8; a free return fly-by of the moon. This would be the first time that a crew would go aboard.

It can hold six astronauts. The Orion is planned by NASA to be used for deep-space types of missions, so a flight to the moon’s vicinity and back again would test out a long duration mission. That would be about an eight day mission to do that.

Jonathan Ward interviews with SciWorks Radio, and Ivy the Cat, from Shawn's studio Space. - Photo: Shawn Fitzmaurice

A potential planet-saving moon mission is in the works.

There was another plan that NASA was talking about which would be to capture an asteroid and to put it into lunar orbit, and that would be visited by another crew with an Orion capsule.  That’s a possibility still for the 2020s, but no date has been set for that. One of the things that we’re most concerned about is an asteroid that would be big enough to come in and hit a city and and destroy it. So, NASA is looking for technologies to be able to help to capture and deflect those kinds of asteroids.

Aside from inspiring romantic songs and poetry, the moon will also be used as a jumping-off point for space exploration.

One of the things that NASA was looking at was to launch one Orion mission to the moon every year during the 2020s. Each of those missions to the moon could carry a module for a space station that could be assembled in lunar orbit. By the end of the 2020s, we’d have a functional space station in lunar orbit and one of the plans being talked about was potentially launching a propulsion module to that space station and being able to send it to Mars. So it could be potentially a very exciting type of mission.

It’s likely that future missions will be international cooperative efforts.

NASA has said that they would entertain cooperating with Russia or with the European Space Agency, who are both talking about how to do some sort of lunar base program in the next 10 to 20 years. The US’s space launch booster, which is going to be having its first flight next year, is going to be much more powerful than any other country’s rockets. So, the United States could launch landers and habitation modules that are built by other nations. It would be a corporative type of effort. For example, Russia could build a habitation module, and the US could launch it to the moon.

Having this alien world on our own doorstep is a huge benefit as we move into deep space exploration.

The moon is close by, so it’s a good opportunity to test out technology on the moon. If there’s a problem, astronauts can get home from there in a couple of days, as opposed to trying to get something to Mars and then finding out there’s a problem and then having to wait 6 to 8 months to get back home again from there. So, it’s much better to do it closer to home.

After Cernan parked the lunar rover for the last time, and walked back to the lunar module, he knew not only was this his last time on the moon, but he knew this was probably the last time for a long time that anybody was going to be on the moon. And so when he went up the ladder, he paused on the porch of the lunar module before going in the door, and he said he tried soak in the meaning of that experience. And he talked about being on God’s front porch.


This Time Round, the theme music for SciWorks Radio, appears as a generous contribution by the band Storyman and courtesy of

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