NASA Wants To Build a Levitating Train on the Moon

By: Julia | Published: May 16, 2024

NASA has revealed that they are planning to eventually build a levitating train on the moon in the next decade.

This plan comes as the space agency seeks to develop what they call “science fiction-like” projects dedicated to future space exploration.

Innovative Space Projects

NASA’s plan to build new traveling objects on the moon is all a part of its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. This program is designed to further help the agency as it expands into space.

A view of the moon in black space.

Source: Mike Petrucci/Unsplash

While many of the plans attached to the NIAC program seem incredibly far-fetched — especially as U.S. astronauts haven’t been on the moon in decades — the agency plans to develop these programs and objects in the next 10 or so years.

The FLOAT Project

NASA’s plan to build a levitating train on the surface of the moon is all a part of their Flexible Levitation on a Track (FLOAT) project.

Different cycles of the moon seen in black space.

Source: Sanni Sahil/Unsplash

The FLOAT project is now in phase two of NIAC. According to the agency, this train could be well underway on the moon as soon as the 2030s — or, in the next 10 years.

The Moon’s First Railway System?

Ethan Schaler is the project leader for this FLOAT idea. As a robotics engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Schaler is well versed in robotics and believes this type of train could do the moon well.

A close-up look at the surface of the moon seen in black space.

Source: Nicolas Thomas/Unsplash

Schaler wrote in a NASA blog post, “We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon.”

What This Train Will Look Like

While the FLOAT project is still in its initial planning phase, even though it is now in phase two, there are a few factors we know about what this train could look like.

A close-up of the moon’s surface.

Source: NASA/Unsplash

The space agency’s initial design shows magnetic robots that levitate over about a three-layer film track. This is to help reduce potential abrasion from moon dust that could occur, thanks to the moon’s surface.

A Robotic Train

Carts are then mounted on these levitating robots. Once the train is in motion, it will move at about one mile per hour.

A full moon seen in the sky behind the silhouette of trees.

Source: Aron Visuals/Unsplash

This robotic train would ideally transport about 100 tons of objects or material a day. However, it does appear as if it will be a rather slow-moving transport system — at least, in this initial phase.


Why Does the Moon Need Transport?

Of course, many people may be wondering why the moon needs a train system to transport material and objects to begin with. After all, it’s not like there’s much on the moon that needs transport.

A close-up of the moon’s surface.

Source: Michael/Unsplash

According to NASA, this levitating train system will transport material back and forth from their lunar base, another futuristic idea they’re planning to create.


A Lunar Base in the Next 10 Years

NASA’s plan to build a lunar base could also occur within the next 10 years, give or take. Schaler also touched on this transport system that worked alongside a U.S. base on the moon.

A crescent moon seen in a starry night sky above mountains.

Source: Benjamin Voros/Unsplash

“A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030s,” Schaler wrote.


Heading Back to the Moon

This latest revelation that NASA is truly working on a science fiction-esque train on the moon comes as the space agency desires to expand space exploration — and their activity on the moon.

An astronaut on the moon standing beside an American flag.

Source: NASA/Unsplash

While the U.S. hasn’t sent astronauts back to the moon since 1972, NASA has stated that they will send people up to the moon as early as 2026.


NASA’s Artemis Mission

The quest to land astronauts on the moon is a part of the agency’s Artemis 3 mission. The astronaut crew part of this mission will use the SpaceX Starship, which the company is currently building.

An astronaut holding a camera outside training for the moon landing in 1970.

Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Before this Artemis 3 mission can take off, NASA is waiting to see if both Artemis 1 and Artemis 2 missions — both of which are uncrewed — go well.


Creating a U.S. Presence on the Moon

NASA is very intent on creating more of a U.S. presence on the moon in the next decade. In 2020, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained this desire.

A sliver of a crescent moon seen in the dark night sky.

Source: Marcus Löfvenberg/Unsplash

“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration — the development of a sustained presence on and around the moon,” Bridenstine stated.


Other Futuristic Plans

While building a robotic, levitating train on the surface of the moon is already incredibly futuristic, NASA has other plans that might seem even more unbelievable.

A full moon seen during a cloudy night.

Source: Ganapathy Kumar/Unsplash

The agency’s NIAC program also has plans to create fluid-based telescopes, as well as a rocket that is only propelled by plasma!