Half a century ago, the Apollo 11 moon landing ushered in a new era of space exploration by putting the first humans on the moon. The missions that followed would herald breakthroughs in science and engineering. After decades of near Earth missions, NASA has a renewed commitment to deep-space exploration. It’s betting on a new program called Artemis (the moon goddess and Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology) to return us to the moon by 2024. NASA hopes to establish a sustainable presence on the lunar surface by 2028. In the meantime, Mars beckons. In the coming decade NASA will learn about living in deep space using four key space craft: a heavy lift rocket, an orbiting outpost, a modern exploration vehicle and a lunar lander. Discoveries from these missions could finally unlock a path to the Red Planet and beyond.



Orion crew vehicle and service module
Crews of up to four astronauts lifted into deep space.

Upper stage
An upper stage provides additional power needed to take crew or cargo beyond Earth’s gavitational pull.

Core stage
Towering over 200 feet tall with a diameter of 27.5 feet, the core stage will store hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

Solid rocket booster stage
Two five-segment solid rocket boosters will provide the additional power needed for the rocket.

Saturn V
First in 2022
322 ft.
363 ft.
Payload capacity
26 tons
45 tons
Thrust at takeoff, millions
of lbs.

How we get there

Evolve deep space rocketry by 2022

It’s been 46 years since NASA last launched an exploration-class rocket — the massive Saturn V was used for 10 of the 11 manned Apollo missions — to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit. That is slated to change in 2022, when NASA will fire the new Space Launch System. This advanced, flexible rocket will provide the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit and is being designed with cargo and crew configurations. With help from more than 1,000 U.S. companies and key NASA centers — including Kennedy Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and the Mission Control Center in Houston — the launch system is being designed to carry more payload mass and fuel than any previous rocket. Its rockets are estimated to produce 15% more thrust to liftoff than its predecessor — allowing it to propel itself, the Orion module, astronauts and cargo to the moon on a single mission.


The Lunar Gateway will be assembled in orbit around the moon and will be used as a long-term base for exploration.

How we stay there

Build a deep space habitat, 2022-2026

Training: Even before our first trip to Mars, astronauts will use the Lunar Gateway to train for life far from Earth and to practice moving a spaceship in deep space orbits.

Work life: The full Gateway could have living quarters, laboratories, docking ports (like doors) for visiting spacecraft, and more by the late 2020s. It will provide NASA and its partners access to more of the lunar surface than ever before, supporting both human and robotic missions.

Deployment: With help from U.S. companies and international partners, NASA plans to deploy the Gateway in two phases.

Phase One: Launch the Gateway’s Power Propulsion Element and a crew on a commercial rocket in 2022.

Phase Two: In 2023, deliver additional modules to extend the Gateway’s living and work areas to support lunar exploration. Combined, these modules will serve as a rendezvous point and command center for astronauts embarking to the lunar surface by 2024.


The Orion Module will carry astronauts to the Lunar Gateway and on return trips to Earth.

Traveling to the moon and back

Perfect a new exploration vehicle by 2020

NASA is developing an exploration craft named Orion to carry out short deep-space missions. The vehicle will carry as many as four astronauts on free-flight missions for up to 21 days. The module meets strict requirements for deep space — flight including re-entry conditions, deep-space communications, safety, radiation and life support. After being launched on NASA’s Space Launch System, Orion will take a crew to the Gateway in lunar orbit.


After a mission on the moon's surface, the ascent element will carry astronauts back to the Lunar Gateway.

Returning to the moon

Land humans on the moon again in 2026

Using the Lunar Gateway to stage astronaut descents, astronauts will use new landers to reach the moon’s surface, setting the stage for future, fully reusable lunar landing vehicles. NASA is calling on U.S. companies to help them develop a modern lunar landing system. Crew will depart the Gateway aboard the multipart lunar lander system. The first stage or transfer unit, will take them down to low-lunar orbit. Then, a different spacecraft, the descent element, will take them to the moon’s surface. Once the surface mission is complete, an ascent element will return them to the Gateway. Beginning in late 2019, with a series of commercial missions to send small landers and rovers on the moon, scientists will use these new tools to conduct experiments.


Sources and images: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Lockheed Martin Corporation