NASA sees strong international interest in lunar exploration plans

WASHINGTON — There is significant interest in NASA’s new lunar exploration plans from potential international partners but the country can’t take its position of leadership for granted, an agency official said March 5.

In a talk at a Space Transportation Association luncheon here, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said both current International Space Station partners and emerging space nations showed an interest in cooperating with NASA on those plans during discussions at the Second International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF2) last week in Tokyo.

“It’s clear the U.S. is a leader throughout the international space community. That really came through our work with the space station,” he said. “As we look forward and do things around the moon, we’re going to have to keep a strong international presence.”

Countries are interested in cooperating on NASA’s lunar exploration plans in a variety of ways, Gerstenmaier said. Those plans are centered around development of the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, a human-tended facility in cislunar space, as well as a series of lander missions that would culminate with human missions to the lunar surface in the late 2020s.

One area of cooperation, he said, is in development of life support systems for the Gateway, citing interest from the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency JAXA. NASA, he added, also has plans to develop life support systems, “so we’ll figure out some way there” for cooperation among agencies.

Another area of interest, he said, is in developing lunar lander capabilities. NASA has plans in the near term to partner with companies developing small commercial landers, and ultimately develop larger landers. But there are few details about how NASA, working with commercial or international partners, might develop those larger landers in the 2020s.

“I don’t think we fully understand all the requirements that we need to do a human-rated lunar lander today,” Gerstenmaier said. He noted the Apollo-era Lunar Module wouldn’t meet current NASA safety requirements. Early small lunar lander missions in this new architecture could “tease out” those requirements for human-rated landers, he said.

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