May 8th 2024
by Thomas Le Gourrierec

Lunar Gateway, last stop before Mars !

  • ©NASA
  • ©NASA
  • ©NASA
  • ©NASA

In 2028, the Lunar Gateway station will begin orbiting the Moon as an advanced base, a "space refuge" for astronauts exploring our satellite. It will also serve as a communications hub, a docking port for visiting spacecraft, and a laboratory. In the future, it will serve as a supply stop on the long journey to Mars!

It's a clinical-looking space reminiscent of a laboratory clean room, crammed with buttons and indicator lights. There's no room for frills here: every cubic meter must be optimized. Starting in 2028, four astronauts from the Artemis IV mission will live in the i-Hab habitation module, which will orbit the Moon as one of the compartments of the Lunar Gateway station. Inside, the occupants will float weightlessly between the entry airlock, the computer workstation, the private sleeping cabins, the consoles for controlling oxygen and drinking water, and a jar for growing lettuce!

While initial missions will last a few days, it will be possible to stay at this advanced base for up to three months. This will allow astronauts to explore the Moon in greater depth, and establish a more permanent presence than was possible with the Apollo missions of the 1960s. The Lunar Gateway will greatly simplify the mission, by allowing astronauts to leave their spacecraft behind and return to the lunar surface in a more user-friendly lander. This will be possible when the space station is at its closest to the Moon, about 3,000 km (1,900 mi) from the North Pole.

In addition to its original function, this new advanced base will serve as a communications hub and a veritable laboratory. Thanks to the latter, it will be possible, for example, to study the effects of radiation on humans, collect dust particles from asteroids or comets, or use low-frequency radio waves to learn more about the Big Bang. The Lunar Gateway will also make it much easier to control a rover vehicle on the Moon than from Earth, or to store lunar samples for shipment to the Blue Planet.

The various components of the space station will be assembled in stages during various missions of the Artemis program between 2026 and 2031. In the future, this outpost will allow humans to develop their survival skills in deep space, with a view to manned missions to Mars. It would even serve as a stopover on the way from Earth to the Red Planet, acting as a "service station" to ensure the supply of spacecraft. Scientists are also exploring the idea of electrolyzing water, which would be present on the Moon in the form of ice, to use hydrogen and oxygen as liquid propellants for spacecraft. Looking to the future now!