It’s time to move on to the next stage in mankind’s space exploration.

Artistic depiction of the station. Credits: NASA.

The Cold War will definitely remain one of the darker pages of mankind’s history, but it brought an unexpected upside: the Space Race. The rivalry between the USSR and the United States sent us to unprecedented heights. First, we sent a man to space. Then, mankind rushed to the Moon, accomplishing what few people thought possible, with what today we see as incredibly simple technology. After the Cold War, we built a research station in orbit — the International Space Station has greatly improved our understanding of space, and science in general. Now, it’s time to take things to the next level and mix the two up and set up a station in the near-Moon orbit. That the US and Russia, the two old rivals, are teaming up to do this, is the cherry on the cake.

Rumors about this started about one week ago when Popular Mechanics reported that the head of Roscosmos State Corporation, Igor Komarov, will announce a new partnership with NASA to build a near-Moon station. Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin also expressed support for such a project.

“We will discuss what we will do on the Moon, near the Moon, and the lunar orbital station,” Komarov was quoted as saying, “It is important how (near-lunar station) will develop, what would be the contribution from each country, and what will be our participation.”

Now, things are official, as Komarov himself has noted, and NASA has confirmed.

“We [Roscosmos and NASA] have agreed to join the project to build a new international Deep Space Gateway station in [the] moon’s orbit,” Roscosmos head Igor Komarov said, as cited by Interfax.

The project is called Deep Space Gateway and is regarded by NASA as a stepping stone towards longer missions, especially to Mars. Basically, NASA wants to use this new outpost to test the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations. The near-Moon environment offers a deep-space environment suitable for such tests, and is also relatively accessible from Earth. This deep space gateway would have a power bus, a small habitat to extend crew time, docking capability, an airlock, and serviced by logistics modules to enable research.

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This is not a US-Russia project only. Among others, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are expected to participate.

“I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA. “The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system.”

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