Astronauts are on track to live and work on the moon by the end of the decade, according to a NASA official.
Howard Hu, the head of the US agency’s Orion lunar spacecraft program, said humans could be active on the moon for “durations” before 2030 with habitats to live in and rovers to support their work.
“Certainly, in this decade, we will have people living for durations, depending on how long we will be on the surface. They will have habitats; they will have rovers on the ground,” he told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg program.
“We are going to be sending people down to the surface, and they are going to be living on that surface and doing science,” he added.
The 98-metre (322ft) massive rocket, atop which is the Orion spacecraft, lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Wednesday following a series of delays caused by technical issues and hurricanes.
The spacecraft is equipped with three fully suited mannequins that will record the stresses and strains of the Artemis 1 mission. The rocket is now approximately 83,000 miles from the moon.
“It’s the first step we’re taking to long-term deep-space exploration, for not just the United States but for the world. I think this is a historic day for Nasa, but it’s also a historic day for all the people who love human space flight and deep-space exploration,” Hu said.
“We are going back to the moon. We’re working towards a sustainable programme, and this is the vehicle that will carry the people that will land us back on the moon again,” he added.
The spacecraft will travel within 60 miles of the moon and then proceed for another 40,000 miles before turning around and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11. During the 25-day journey, the spacecraft will traverse 1.3 million miles, the furthest distance ever flown by a human-built spacecraft.
The spacecraft will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 25,000mph, increasing the temperature of its heat shield to approximately 2,800 degrees Celsius (5,000F). It is predicted to make a splash off the coast of San Diego.
The Artemis 2 and 3 flights, which will take people around the moon and back, will be made possible if the mission succeeds.
For the first time since Apollo 17 in December 1972, the Artemis 3 mission, which might launch as late as 2026, is anticipated to bring people back to the moon’s surface.