Once rivals in the mid-20th century space race, Russia and the U.S. will now join forces to build the first international space station on the moon.
On Sept. 27, Russian space agency Roscosmos announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Australia to work with the U.S. on a lunar mission. NASA explained in a statement that the alliance with Roscosmos improves the "strategic capability" of the mission and makes it more affordable.
The space program is one of the only programs between the U.S. and Russia that has not been damaged by situations in Syria and Ukraine, The Guardian reports.
"[We] intend to develop international technical standards which will be used later, in particular to create a space station in lunar orbit," Roscosmos stated.
The Russian agency said that NASA agreed to use Russian designs for the space station's docking unit and that the two will work together to make the station a reality.
Global News reports that the space station’s design is still a work in progress. Construction is likely to begin in the 2020s.
The space station is part of NASA's Deep Space Gateway program. Global News reports that the program, which was first announced in March, is designed to make it easier for humans to explore the solar system.
"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 an earlier explanation of the program.
A lunar space station would also be a step towards NASA's eventual goal of sending humans to Mars; they hope to accomplish that milestone by the 2030s, according to The Guardian.
Ambitions for the nation's space agency have evolved over presidential administrations. According to The Guardian, a lunar mission has not been considered since the George W. Bush administration.
NASA's Mars aspirations were fueled by President Barack Obama, who dismissed Bush's plan to visit the moon again by 2020. Obama also funded a mission to test the technology for visiting Mars, which would have involved capturing a boulder from an asteroid's surface and sending it to orbit the moon.
The asteroid mission was abandoned by President Trump, who once again is focusing on moon exploration. The lunar space station is not likely to be completed by the time he leaves office.