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NASA has opened the door to the next generation of space discovery by announcing ambitious plans for a permanently staffed base on the surface of the Moon. Construction on the lunar outpost would begin soon after 2020, with astronauts living there within four years, the space agency said.

The project comes after several prominent scientists and environmentalists urged humans to look beyond Earth to ensure the survival of the species.

Ultimately, the Moon would be a staging post for humans to explore the solar system and one day land on Mars. “This is not your father’s Apollo,” said John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, referring to America’s short-stay trips to the Moon of the 1960s and 1970s

The first manned mission to Earth’s satellite in two generations will blast off by 2020 to start work on an outpost that eventually will be occupied permanently, the US space agency said.

At first, crews of four will make week-long runs to the Moon, before larger missions make progressively longer trips to build up living modules and power plants. The goal is to establish a full-time human presence by 2024, with astronauts spending six-month tours at the lunar base.

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