The latest configuration of the Altair lunar lander. This is still a work in progress, subject to many redesigns. The main cabin supports 4 people for stays up to a week. An airlock big enough for two has been added, connected by a tunnel at the rear. This would be left behind, along with Spacesuits, on the Moon.
A moonwalker steps out onto what Hawaii realtors call a wraparound lanai. We can imagine astronauts bringing telescopes and aluminum deck chairs. That's a long ladder to descend backwards in a Spacesuit. NASA is more concerned about the lack of visibility for the pilot on landing. One could almost suggest a conning station out on the lanai, but that would take away abort capability.
NASA sources tell that Altair is designed to carry big cargoes to a lunar base. The lander performs its own Lunar Orbit Injection burn so that it can reach the Moon without the manned Orion. Altair would not drop a stage on descent (which would save weight) because engineers don't trust a computer to restart the engines. For long trips to the Moon or Mars, more payload is better.
Speaking of big, NASA is still determined to build Ares V. It will be the largest rocket ever built, bigger than Saturn V. Current plans have it 381 feet tall and capable of placing 140 tons in orbit. Studies support adding a 6th main engine and 6-segment Solid rocket Boosters. NASA systems managers with their Gant diagrams and triple constraints have concluded that this will reach the Moon.
Below an earlier model of Altair is placed next to the Ares 1-B from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Combined with its Earth Departure Stage, Altair is nearly as big as 2001's moonship. The movie Ares did not need an ascent stage or return fuel because it could refuel at a Moonbase. Studies are already underway to make fuel from lunar regolith. Let us hope that we stay to build the Moonbase, then the huge Ares V could deliver the Pan Am Ares to Space.
NEXT WEEK: We learn more about Moon hardware from the source.