Man on Mars: NASA Plans to Test Deep Space Exploration With New Spaceport Orbiting the Moon

The setting moon is seen in a photograph taken by Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) from the International Space Station on March 28, 2016 and released by NASA on April 4, 2016. REUTERS/ESA/NASA/Handout via Reuters

NASA is looking to explore the area of space near the moon for clues on how to travel to Mars and even farther into the solar system, the space agency announced Tuesday. A crucial part of that mission could be a new crew-tended spaceport circling the moon that could be used to test how the agency might send astronauts to other planets, NASA said.

"NASA is working with domestic and international partners to solve the great challenges of deep space exploration. Missions in the vicinity of the moon will span multiple phases as part of NASA's framework to build a flexible, reusable and sustainable infrastructure that will last multiple decades and support missions of increasing complexity," NASA said in a statement.

The reusable spaceport could be used to support robotic missions to the moon and to other destinations in the solar system, NASA said. If the project works as envisioned, the spaceport would rely on electric and chemical propulsion to take a crew to their destination and then return them to the gateway.

"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 Headquarters in Washington.

It wasn't immediately known how much the project would cost. A test flight could lift off in late 2018.

NASA's previous space exploration plan under the Obama administration called for using a chunk of an asteroid to test missions to deep space. The Trump administration killed the project—reportedly because it didn't sound exciting enough compared with a return to the moon by 2020.

"NASA will investigate approaches for reducing the costs of exploration missions to enable a more expansive exploration program," a White House 2018 budget proposal released earlier this month said.