Moderate temperatures, nearly perpetual sunshine, flat landing areas and subterranean resources make the rim of the Shackleton Crater -- situated within the solar system's largest impact crater -- an ideal location for a lunar homestead, down near the moon's south pole. NASA hopes to send the first pioneers there by 2020.
"Hardscrabble" was what future president Ulysses S. Grant named his ramshackle homestead on the pre-Civil War Missouri frontier. That might be an apt title for NASA's planned lunar outpost, for its residents will find the moon a harsh place to settle. Survival will depend on their ability to evade micrometeoroids, extract oxygen from rocks and even, like Grant, grow wheat.
The space agency announced its strategy to return to the moon last December. Instead of emulating the series of six Apollo landings, it chose as its initial goal the establishment of a single lunar outpost. Using the new crew exploration vehicle, Orion, NASA plans to send four astronauts to the moon as early as 2020 ("Mission: Moon," March '07). Eventually, four-man crews will rotate home every six months. Their goal will be to live off the land, extend scientific exploration and practice for an eventual leap to Mars.
The moon, says NASA, is the place to get our space-suited hands dirty. "The lunar base is part of an overall plan that has legs, that makes sense," says Wendell Mendell, chief of the Office of Lunar and Planetary Exploration at Johnson Space Center. "We're moving the human species out into the solar system."
Learn how NASA plans to build a Moon colony at Military.com.