Astronauts will be 'living and working on the moon' within a decade, says NASA

NASA plans to have astronauts working and living on the moon for up to two months within a decade.

NASA's Artemis rocket ship set off on course for the moon this week, sending a next-generation capsule on a crewless voyage around the moon and back 50 years after the final Apollo lunar mission.

The US space agency's much-delayed and highly anticipated launch from Florida finally kicked off Apollo's successor programme, Artemis, which is aimed at returning astronauts to the lunar surface this decade and establishing a sustainable base there as a stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.

And now NASA has said the programme is actually a stepping stone towards sending regular crews to the moon - and even for them to stay for longer periods.

It plans to establish what it calls Artemis Base Camp, which will have "a modern lunar cabin and even a mobile home" which will allow astronauts to stay for up to two months.

A spokesperson said: "NASA will build on the momentum of that human return mission in four years and plans to send crew to the moon about once per year thereafter.

"To give astronauts a place to live and work on the moon, the agency's Artemis Base Camp concept includes a modern lunar cabin, a rover and even a mobile home.

"Early missions will include short surface stays, but as the base camp evolves, the goal is to allow crew to stay at the lunar surface for up to two months at a time."

The three-week Artemis I mission that took off this week involves a 25-day Orion flight bringing the capsule to within about 60 miles (97 km) of the lunar surface before flying about 40,000 miles (64,400 km) beyond the moon and looping back to Earth.

The capsule is expected to splash down at sea on 11 December.

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While no astronauts were on board, this mission is a precursor to returning humans to the moon, more than five decades after the Apollo landings. Twelve astronauts walked on the moon on six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972.

After decades with NASA focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station, Artemis I signals a major change in direction for the agency's post-Apollo human spaceflight program.

Named after the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt - and Apollo's twin sister - Artemis aims to return astronauts to the moon's surface as early as 2025, promising to take with it "the first woman and the first person of colour" to walk on the moon.

Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, said: "With more demand for access to the moon, we are developing the technologies to achieve an unprecedented human and robotic presence 240,000 miles from home.

"Our experience on the moon this decade will prepare us for an even greater adventure in the universe - human exploration of Mars."