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NASA plans rover mission to moon, lunar space station may be next

Resolve. It's what helps us achieve greatness in the face of adversity. We resolved to put a man on the moon in the 1960s. By the end of that decade, man planted the American flag firmly in the lunar body's surface.

RESOLVE is also the name of a payload that, when placed on a rover similar to the one exploring Mars at this very moment, may one day discover resources on the moon that will allow us to send manned exploration missions deeper into space than previously possible.

According to an article on the official NASA website, RESOLVE stands for Regolith and Environmental Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction. It is designed to map the distribution of water and other resources detected during previous unmanned missions to the celestial body.

As the article explains, this would be a nine-day excursion during which RESOLVE can drill into the surface and heat collected materials in order to measure the amount of water vapor and other useful compounds present. The goal is to find resources that will help astronauts make air, drinking water, rocket fuel and a host of other necessities for deep-space missions.

"Mars is a great example of why we need to use the resources at the destination," said Bill Larson, who oversees the program to use materials found on other planetary bodies for space travel. "Each human mission to Mars will last about 2 and 1/2 years. To reduce the amount of water and breathing air we have to send with astronauts, we will need to use the resources of the red planet to generate these life-essential commodities."

By using resources found on the moon, man's reach into the depths of space would be extended – and it all starts here on Earth.

NASA officials have said they will be taking RESOLVE to Mauna Kea, Hawaii next month for a nine-day simulation because the lava-covered mountain's soil closely resembles the moon's surface.

As we rededicate our efforts to space exploration and discovery, these robotic missions are critical to success. State-of-the-art sensors combined with manufacturing ingenuity will allow payloads like RESOLVE to drill into the surfaces of other planets, moons and asteroids and gather data that will chart the course of the future.

Is RESOLVE merely the first step?

While RESOLVE is tentatively scheduled to venture to the moon sometime in 2017, a deep-space outpost could follow within a few years. According to a recent article in The Verge, sources indicate the White House may back a plan to construct a lunar waypoint. If this turns out to be true, manned missions to Mars and other points in space could leave Earth, collect necessary resources at the waypoint and then proceed on to their destinations.

The Verge cites a leaked NASA memo from earlier this year that outlined such an idea and mentioned a possible location: Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2.

This is "a point in space where balanced gravitational forces allow an object to remain in stationary orbit relative to both the Earth and the Moon," writes Sean Hollister, author of the article. "From there, NASA could launch missions deeper into space – say, to Mars, or a near-Earth asteroid – using the base as a stepping stone."

The construction of a "moon base" may sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction novel, but we live in a world where technology is advancing more rapidly than ever before. Through innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals and research into alternative energy technologies, the possibility of such achievements is very real.

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