NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, plans to put humans on the moon four years earlier than expected, and it is almost certain that it is feasible.
First, the agency will launch two Orion spacecraft – one with humans and the other without – around the moon at the rear of the government's heavy rocket by 2023. The agency then plans to use a commercial enterprise for the rocket. pieces of a space station on the orbit of the moon by 2024. Finally, officials will scramble the government's rocket manifesto to use its last flight in 2024 in order to send humans to this moon station instead of a probe for Europa, the moon of Jupiter.
Meanwhile, NASA will develop a human lunar landing gear to bring astronauts from the lunar station, called the orbital-lunar bridge, to the surface.
It's a lot to do in five years. But most of all, the problem is money.
"We have enjoyed strong bipartisan support and significant budget demands in the past," said Bridenstine in an interview with the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. "But this is another level of support, so we'll know it."
Bridenstine was at Rice University to speak Saturday at the Owls in Space symposium.
Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, NASA's plan was to put humans back on the moon by 2028. But last month, Vice President Mike Pence asked the agency to 39, accelerate this schedule until 2024 using "all necessary means".
This announcement was greeted with cynicism, especially since the President 's last budget request provided for a reduction of $ 500 million from the agency next year. And that, of course, would not be enough.
So, NASA is working on a budget that would allow faster operations without sacrificing security. Bridenstine said he would present this budget to Congress in late April or early May.
He does not know how much extra money will be needed, but hopes that the request will ask Congress for multi-year funding for Moon programs, so that political whims and support changes do not jeopardize the 2024 plan by eliminating the necessary funds.
"Annual funding is risky," he said. "It would reduce the risk."
The Moon 2024 plan also risks compromising the government's heavy rocket to raise problems. The Space Launch System rocket, built by Boeing, was to launch Orion in 2017.
It has however continued to lag behind, and Boeing recently told NASA that he could not get to the June 2020 launch date, supposedly sending Orion's unmanned circular.
That would not do, especially after Pence's directive. The agency looked into whether it was better to use a commercial rocket to launch Orion instead (and found a viable option), but NASA decided that it would still respect not the launch deadline.
Bridenstine said that the agency officials had found a way to speed up the launch of the first SLS, so that it was only delayed for six months. But the agency is developing a commercial backup plan in case SLS continues to encounter problems.
The agency needs another SLS – or a machine of equivalent power – to send the first crewed Orion around the moon by 2023 and a third to the Gateway of # 39, here 2024. The Europa Clipper, who was supposed to travel to Jupiter's moon on third SLS, would then be launched via a commercial rocket.
"It's something we think for a second or third effort should [the Space Launch System rocket] let's continue to be challenged, "Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. When we think of 2023/2024, we have another option that we can start to gather now if we want to and we are following that process. . "
Bridenstine said the agency is already working on a lunar lander to take humans to the surface. It will still be necessary to find a commercial company to launch the elements of the bridge over the orbit of the moon by 2024.
Alex Stuckey writes about NASA and science for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at [email protected] or at Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.