NASA announced ambitious plans today to build a permanent base on the south pole of the moon. Construction would begin in 2020 with four-person crews that would stay for a week, visits will lengthen until astronauts can live on the base for up to six months at a stretch. This could become possible as early as 2024.
A moon base would help NASA decide what's needed to send people to Mars, said David Portree, a former NASA historian. But he warned that the expense could sink the whole project.
"Running a base is going to be very expensive," Portree said. "It's going to make running a space station look cheap." The Congressional Research Service estimates that the station's construction cost will exceed $100 billion, more than five times the first estimate, made in the early '90s.
Saving money was foremost in NASA's thinking in choosing the site for a moon base. It will probably be located at the lunar north or south pole, Dale said, in part because the ample sunlight that hits those regions would make it cheaper to provide power.