More than four decades after Neil Armstrong planted the first human footprints on the moon, NASA is planning the construction of a new space outpost that would send astronauts farther from Earth than ever before. At 277,000 miles from Earth, the planned space station on the far side of the moon would serve as a base for future human and robotic moon missions as well as asteroid exploration and, eventually, trips to Mars and its moons.

The Orlando Sentinel received copies of NASA documents that detail the organization’s grand plans to build an outpost 38,000 miles from the moon in a region of deep space where the gravities of Earth and the moon reach equilibrium, creating a unique force field that would help the outpost to “stick” in place. The enormous rocket needed to get astronauts to the outpost is set to be built by 2017. NASA wants to build the outpost using a Russian-built module, parts from Italy and leftover components from the $100 billion International Space Station.

It’s a grand idea that comes with a grand price tag. Space officials say the project could cost billions — perhaps tens of billions — of dollars, though the exact amount is unknown. With the national economy in rocky water, it’s unclear whether the federal government will lend support to such and expensive and potentially dangerous space project. Top space officials acknowledge that the project would put astronauts at an extreme level of risk unparalleled by previous space missions due to the outpost’s deep-in-space location. The NASA documents received by the Orlando Sentinel note that the venture would require participants to accept a higher level of risk than posed by prior space missions, in part due to the fact that the risk of radiation exposure would be extremely high because the base would be located outside Earth’s protective magnetic field.

At best, the outpost could help NASA put the first human footsteps on Mars. At worst, it could be deadly. The state of the economy and the near-future political climate will be among the top indicators to determine whether NASA will get the funding and support to move forward with this ambitious project.

Main photo image: olly/