NASA plans to put American astronauts back on the Moon by 2028, with unmanned demonstration missions in 2024 and 2026, the US space agency chief Jim Bridenstine has said.
Bridenstine on Thursday laid out the space agency's plan to support the development of commercial hardware capable of landing astronauts on the moon, the GeekWire reported.
"This time, when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay," he said.
"We're not going to leave flags and footprints and then come home, to not go back for another 50 years."
The mission architecture represents a dramatic shift from the way NASA had put humans on the Moon when Apollo 11 in July 1969 put Neil Armstrong as the first man to walk on the lunar surface.
The procurement plan, as laid out in a document known as a Broad Agency Announcement, calls for commercial ventures to propose concepts for a descent module, a space refuelling system and a transfer vehicle by March 25.
In May, NASA would select several companies for an initial six-month phase to study and develop in this line and will allocate up to $9 million to each company, GeekWire reported.
Based on the progress made during the first phase, two companies would be chosen to build hardware for a series of demonstration missions.
The hardware would then be launched aboard commercial rockets and NASA's yet-to-be-built Space Launch System to the Gateway space platform, which the US space agency and its international partners plan to build in lunar orbit during the early 2020s, the report said.
The first demonstration mission, scheduled for 2024, would involve sending down an unmanned descent module from the Gateway to the lunar surface.
The second mission, set for 2026, would be again another unmanned demonstration of the descent module, plus an ascent module to get back from the Moon to the Gateway.
Astronauts would make their first trip to the lunar surface in 2028, using the same three-element infrastructure. NASA's plan calls for four astronauts to spend as long as seven days on the Moon, the report said.