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As the world’s leading spacefaring nations plan for their next big outpost in space — a successor to the International Space Station — scientists are drafting a wish list of experiments for the most remote human laboratory ever built. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are hosting meetings to discuss the science plans, the first of which are taking place on 5–6 December in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

No nation has yet committed to fully funding the project, which does not yet have an estimated cost but is slated for the 2020s. But the space agencies are working on a plan to build an outpost in orbit around the Moon. Scientists are already jockeying for room on the platform. “I have been taken aback by the extent and the quality of proposals,” says James Carpenter, human and robotic exploration strategy officer at ESA in Noordwijk, who organized the event and had to double the capacity of the agency's event to 250 people, owing to the level of interest.

Known as the Deep Space Gateway, the platform is the “commonly accepted” next step once the International Space Station retires in the mid-2020s, says David Parker, director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration at ESA. The space agencies have made clear that its main purpose would be to test, from Earth’s backyard, the technology for deep-space exploration and long-duration missions — including, eventually, going to Mars. “But we also want to work out how we get the best science out of it,” says Parker.

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Category: Science