Last year, Vice President Mike Pence instructed NASA to bring people back to the moon by 2024. Since then, the agency has been working hard to achieve this goal by creating the Artemis program and contracting with three different teams to begin the development of lunar ships. NASA is also required to “create a permanent base there and develop technologies for the delivery of American astronauts to Mars and beyond.” During a meeting of the Virtual Institute for Solar System Research, a NASA engineer described how this might look.

NASA Engineer Mark Kirasich, Acting Director of Advanced NASA Research Systems, spoke at a meeting of the Virtual Institute for Solar System Research. During his presentation, Kirasich outlined NASA’s plans for activities on the lunar surface.

Assuming NASA’s goal is to land people on the moon by 2024, in 2025 Lunar Land Transport will be implemented through the Commercial Lunar Cargo Delivery Services program, in which NASA has a choice among private companies for delivery services.

The rover shown at NASA’s presentation can be a relatively simple, non-pressurized vehicle. It is similar to what the astronauts had at their disposal during the last three missions of Apollo to the moon.

Kirasich said that this rover is the first of the elements of the lunar medium on the surface, which engineers are going to build. He also confirmed that NASA will formally establish a rover program office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The next step is to develop a sealed rover. The project will be attended by the Japan Aerospace Research Agency, said Kirasich.

Last week, NASA officially formalized the agreement by signing the Joint Declaration of Intent, which includes Japan’s contribution to the development of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. This is a program to create a NASA-led international inhabited near-moon station, designed at the first stage to study the moon and deep space, and later as a transfer station for astronauts bound for Mars and back.

This potentially means that the Japanese space agency, JAXA, will lead the development of a critical part of the architecture of the Artemis program – the rover, which within 14 days becomes a habitat for two people.

When asked whether it was justifiable for NASA to delegate this work to JAXA and its commercial partner Toyota, Kirasich answered that it was necessary.

Our work depends on federal funding, so we must listen to our constituents who finance us. It is very important for our leadership to involve JAXA. In addition, the Japanese and their automotive industry are very interested in this kind of development.

Mark Kirasich , NASA engineer

The senior lunar scientist attending the meeting, Clive Neal of Notre Dame, said the announcement that Japan would now lead the development of habitat under pressure on the Moon came as a surprise.

However, Neil added that he understands that NASA and its administrator, Jim Breedenstein, need to expand the appeal of the Artemis program and attract additional partners. This not only makes Congress easier to support the mission, but also the future presidential administration, and also helps to cover the high costs of returning to the moon.