| CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. May 23 Corporate
researchers may be living on the moon by the time NASA
astronauts head off to visit an asteroid in the 2020s, a study
of future human missions unveiled on Thursday shows.
The study by Bigelow Aerospace, commissioned by NASA, shows
"a lot of excitement and interest from various companies" for
such ventures, said Robert Bigelow, founder and president of the
Las Vegas-based firm.
The projects range from pharmaceutical research aboard
Earth-orbiting habitats, to missions to the moon's surface, he
said on Thursday, citing a draft of the report due to be
released in a few weeks.
NASA intends to follow the International Space Station
program with astronaut visits to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars
about a decade later.
President Barack Obama's proposed budget for the fiscal year
beginning Oct. 1 requests $105 million for the U.S. space agency
to begin work on a mission to find a small asteroid and
reposition it around the moon for a future visit by astronauts.
But private companies, including Bigelow Aerospace, have
more interest in the moon itself, Bigelow told reporters on a
conference call on Thursday.
William Gerstenmaier, NASA's head of space operations, said
on the call "it's important for us to know that there's some
interest in moon activity and lunar surface activity."
"We can take advantage of what the private sector is doing"
in areas such as space transportation, life support systems and
other technologies needed for travel beyond the space station's
250 mile (400 km) high orbit, he noted.
NASA typically completes its mission planning before looking
at what partnerships and collaborations may be possible,
"We thought that this time we would kind of turn that around
a little bit, that we would ask industry first what they're
interested in ... where they see human presence that makes
sense, where they see potential commercial markets."
Bigelow Aerospace surveyed about 20 companies as well as
foreign space agencies and research organizations for the NASA
study, which the company undertook at its own expense. Bigelow
has made no secret of its ambition to own, lease and operate
inflatable space habitats in Earth orbit and on the moon.
Bigelow handed a draft of the first part of the report to
Gerstenmaier on Thursday, 40 days ahead of schedule. The second
section, which probes mission planning and other aspects of
potential public-private partnerships, is due this fall.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Chang)