President Bush's plans for a return to the moon in 2020, with a trip to Mars to follow, were all well and good, but now NASA has finally fleshed out the details of the moon visits, and it seems a permanent international moon base is in the cards. NASA hopes to return to the moon starting in 2020 with short stays to get things prepared, and to have the base ready for extended stays by 2024. The lunar outpost will most likely be placed on the lunar south pole, which is lit by the sun three-quarters of the time, and has possible resources to mine nearby. Two vehicles will be employed, the Orion exploration vehicle, and an all-purpose "pickup truck" of a landing vehicle which attaches to the Orion and can bring cargo and/or crew to the lunar surface in a manned or unmanned manner. It'll cost a whoppin' $104 billion to get back to the moon for the first trip, and we're sure carting supplies up there won't be cheap, but in the long run NASA hopes to be able to harvest hydrogen, oxygen and other nifty moon resources for the operation of the outpost, tasks which could eventually become simple enough to turn over to a commercial supplier. In an effort to keep costs down and build good will, NASA is welcoming other countries to join the effort, though NASA will be doing the actual design work. "This is not your father's Apollo," says John Logsdon of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. "This is not a flag-and-footprints. This is the idea of starting an outward movement that includes long stays on the moon."

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NASA planning to set up shop on the moon in 2024