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Global Exploration Strategy Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the global exploration strategy?

The Global Exploration Strategy, which includes input from more than 1,000 individuals representing 14 of the world's space agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations and commercial interests, was intended to address two overarching issues: "Why we are returning to the moon," and "What we are planning to do when we get there?"

Participation by other nations, as well as commercial interests, is an important aspect of implementing the Vision for Space Exploration. The process of developing a global strategy created an opportunity to explore in greater depth the reasons other countries might have for going to the moon, potential activities associated with lunar exploration, and to understand commercial interest in the overall Vision. The global exploration strategy is the result of a lengthy dialogue among potential stakeholders.

How was the global exploration strategy dialogue conducted?

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin initiated the dialogue in order to discover fresh ideas and gauge international interest in the U.S. agency's plan for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration – particularly with regard to the moon and Mars. From April 2006 through December 2006, NASA and representatives from 13 other space agencies met regularly with non-governmental organizations and private-sector entities to identify goals and objectives, and to begin to understand what exploration of the moon might mean for each nation. NASA coordinated the multilateral discussions. The agency's approach was inclusive.

What space agencies participated?

In addition to NASA, space exploration experts from Australia, Canada, China, the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine participated.

What did the multilateral discussions produce?

The discussions generated agreement on six strategic themes for lunar exploration, 180 possible objectives within those themes, and a draft framework document. More information about the themes and objectives can be found on the Exploration website at The participants agreed on the themes that answer the question "Why return to the moon?" The themes are:

    1. Exploration Preparation: To use the moon to prepare for future human and robotic missions to Mars and other destinations
    2. Scientific Knowledge: To pursue scientific activities addressing fundamental questions about Earth, the solar system, the universe and our place in them
    3. Sustained Presence: To extend human presence to the moon
    4. Economic Expansion: To expand Earth's economic sphere to encompass the moon and to pursue lunar activities with direct benefits to life on Earth
    5. Global Partnership: To strengthen existing international partnerships and create new ones
    6. Inspiration: To engage, inspire and educate the public.
The Global Exploration Strategy is a work in progress. It will inform future discussions between NASA and its partners on areas of collaboration and cooperation in the exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond.

Are the discussions on the Global Exploration Strategy binding on the participants?

The multilateral discussions were not binding. NASA anticipates that certain topics in the Global Exploration Strategy will spark in-depth discussions between space agencies and, potentially, agreements between nations to provide systems or facilities to support global lunar exploration.

What are NASA’s priorities in terms of capabilities to develop?

Such priorities include, but are not limited to, space transportation (including the Orion crew exploration vehicle, the Ares I and Ares V rockets, and the Lunar Surface Access Module), initial communications and navigation capabilities, the development of a suit for extravehicular activity on the lunar surface, providing a closed-loop life support system, and obtaining knowledge about the effects of the lunar environment on humans. Consistent with broader U.S. policy objectives, further discussion, study, and evaluation of these issues will take place as part of the process of developing a final lunar exploration program.

What objectives would NASA hope to accomplish on the moon?

As part of developing the global exploration strategy, NASA identified 40 objectives of particular interest. These include those activities associated with preparing for human missions to Mars and other destinations, providing the capabilities to support scientific investigations, actions that would enable an extended/sustained human presence on the moon, such as demonstrating the use of in situ resources and measuring lunar phenomena, measuring lunar resources and characterizing their possible use, activities that enable international participation, and activities that engage, inspire, and help educate the public. Unlike the sorties to different locations that characterized Project Apollo in the late 1960s and early 1970s, an outpost would enable a sustained human presence on the moon that meets the priorities of the Vision for Space Exploration.

Where might the outpost be located?

The specific location has not been identified, but NASA expects it to be situated at one of the lunar poles. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will provide substantial data as well as new maps of the lunar poles; this data will be used to identify the optimal location for an outpost. A specific location will be identified once the data from LRO is analyzed. The outpost as currently envisioned would also allow future sorties to other places on the moon and would enable preparation for the exploration of Mars.

Why would NASA want to locate an outpost near a lunar pole?

There are five key reasons:

    1. Polar sites have an abundance of sunlight, which alleviates concerns about energy storage. It would be possible to operate a polar outpost on solar power.
    2. The environment at the poles of the moon is relatively benign, making it easier to design a habitat. Temperatures at the poles vary no more than about 50 degrees Celsius all year round, while temperatures at the equator can vary 250 degrees Celsius from day to night.
    3. At the South Pole there is ample evidence of enhanced hydrogen, an important natural resource for future development for energy generation, propellant production and other potential uses.
    4. The poles can teach us volumes about the moon. They are among the most complex regions, yet we know the least about them.
    5. To land equipment and scientific payloads near the South Pole, specifically, as opposed to another location, will require less propellant and could be more cost effective.

When could a lunar outpost be completed?

NASA’s approach to sustaining a human presence on the moon is based on a "go-as-we-can-afford-to-pay” approach that would enable people to return to the moon no later than 2020. On December 4, 2006, NASA announced the results of its initial architecture study, which concluded that the most advantageous approach to lunar exploration is to locate an outpost near one of the poles of the moon. With such an outpost, NASA can learn to use the moon’s natural resources to become self-sufficient, make preparations for a journey to Mars and beyond, conduct a wide range of scientific investigations and encourage international participation.

More work is needed to decide how to translate such concepts into requirements and specific program plans, as NASA continues to implement the Vision for Space Exploration. Current NASA plans are focused on a sustained or extended presence on the moon in the form of an outpost, not a permanent settlement or colony. The study postulated a scenario where four-person crews could pay several seven-day visits to the moon until their power supplies, rovers and living quarters are operational. Subsequently, those visits could be followed by longer stays of up to 180 days. There are significant scientific, technical, and operational challenges that must be solved before long-duration human presence is possible on the moon.

What is left for international partners to do?

NASA's goal is to provide transportation, initial capabilities for extravehicular activities, and initial communication and navigation elements as the foundation for lunar missions. This does not preclude any partner from providing similar elements. Consistent with broader U.S. policy objectives and interests, many options are open to discussion by international and other non-NASA partners, such as habitation, surface mobility, resource utilization, robotics and communications.

NASA hopes its international counterparts will identify objectives they want to accomplish and work together with other agencies, as appropriate, to coordinate activities and reach agreements on mutually beneficial collaboration.

How does NASA plan to pay for the lunar architecture?

The President's Budget, as projected for fiscal years 2007 through 2011, provides NASA sufficient resources to complete the first phase of the Vision for Space Exploration, which includes completing the International Space Station, retiring the Space Shuttle by 2010, and keeping efforts on track to bring the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle on-line by 2014 and return people to the moon by 2020, while continuing strong programs in aeronautics, and space and Earth science. NASA continues to employ a "go-as-we-can-afford-to-pay" approach to development activities related to achieving the Vision for Space Exploration goals. With that in mind, NASA’s initial concepts for returning humans to the Moon are designed to be flexible as many issues that could impact cost and schedule remain to be resolved. For example, international and commercial participation could reduce costs and provide greater schedule and operational flexibility, while also enhancing the United States' capabilities to explore the moon and Mars.

In order to solicit more international and commercial interest in implementing the Vision for Space Exploration, NASA believes that it was necessary to provide those communities greater insight into NASA's lunar thinking at this early stage, before many U.S. goals or requirements are finalized. The agency’s ability to credibly meet these goals requires us to answer many questions that may affect the timeline for building such a lunar outpost, but NASA is making steady progress in carrying out this Vision and considers the notional lunar architecture an important step.

Have other nations joined the dialogue and expressed interest?

Seven space agencies already have expressed their own desires and near-term plans to explore the moon either robotically or via human presence: China, Europe, India, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia. Altogether, thirteen agencies are participating with NASA in discussions and are planning or contemplating their own participation in lunar exploration.

What are the next steps in the effort?

Phase 1, the development of a global exploration strategy and the definition of NASA's initial approach to lunar exploration, is complete. Phase 2, in which prospective international partners will conduct studies to determine how they can participate, is getting under way.

Dialogue will continue and the global exploration strategy will mature. NASA will continue to encourage others to participate in the next cycle of architecture development, which includes reducing the burden of support to achieve the polar objectives. Robotic exploration to validate systems and architecture will be necessary.