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The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) Mission
To develop a sustained human presence on the moon; to promote exploration, commerce, and U.S. preeminence in space; and to serve as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations.

Specifically, ESMD develops capabilities and supporting research and technology that will make human and robotic exploration possible. It also makes sure that our astronaut explorers are safe, healthy, and can perform their work during long-duration space exploration. In the near-term, ESMD does this by developing robotic precursor missions, human transportation elements, and life-support systems.

The ESMD mission is derived from the Vision for Space Exploration first initiated in January 2004, which commits the United States to implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to:
  • Explore the solar system and beyond
  • Extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations
  • Develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about future destinations for human exploration
  • Promote international and commercial exploration participation to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests
In December 2005, Congress incorporated the Vision into U.S. law through the NASA Authorization Act of 2005. The Act states that “The NASA Administrator shall establish a program to develop a sustained human presence on the moon, including a robust precursor program, to promote exploration, science, commerce, and United States preeminence in space, and as a stepping stone to future exploration of Mars and other destinations.”

The Act also directed the NASA Administrator to achieve the following milestones for which ESMD is responsible:

  • Return Americans to the moon no later than 2020
  • Launch the Crew Exploration Vehicle (now known as “Orion”) as close to 2010 as possible
  • Increase knowledge of the impacts of long-duration stays in space on the human body using the most appropriate facilities available, including the International Space Station
  • Enable humans to land on and return from Mars and other destinations on a timetable that is technically and fiscally possible
In summary, and as stated in the 2006 NASA Strategic Plan, ESMD is to develop the capabilities and supporting research and technology that will enable sustained and affordable human and robotic exploration, and to ensure the health and performance of crews during long-duration space exploration. In support of the more specific near-term goal of lunar exploration, ESMD will develop robotic precursor missions, human transportation elements, and life support systems.