Wednesday, 22 May, 2019

Can NASA really put astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

NASA John Young salutes the U.S. flag at the Descartes landing site on the moon during the first Apollo 16 extravehicular activity. NASA says the astronaut who walked on the moon and later commanded the first Mike Pence American Astronauts on Moon Within 5 Years Charles M. Duke Jr./NASA via APMICHELLE MOONS27 Mar 2019Washington DC
Sandy Nunez | 30 March, 2019, 03:24

"The first woman and the next man on the moon two American astronauts, which are lifted with American rockets from American soil", said Pence on Tuesday at a meeting of the national Council on Astronautics in Huntsville (the U.S. state of Alabama). Repeatedly pointing out that he was essentially relaying the wishes of Trump, Pence told the gathering of scientists and reporters that NASA will have a mere five years to get Americans back on the Moon.

The previous American lunar project, the Apollo programme, was active between 1961 and 1972 and resulted in a total of six manned landings on the moon and 12 astronauts in total visiting Earth's satellite. But over the past few years, the craving of going back up there returned.

In 2017, Trump set a goal of returning to the Moon as a first step before moving on to human exploration of Mars. Such urgency is required to safeguard the country's leadership and dominance in space, Pence said.

"This approach delivers an earlier landing capability featuring reusable technology that also lays a foundation for a future expanded, sustainable human presence at the moon", Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin Space, said in an emailed statement.

NASA repeatedly said it plans to return to the Moon sometime in 2028, its efforts being fueled by the rise of the commercial programs it runs with private companies.

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"The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil", he added. The advisory group held its fifth meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, right next door to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V moon rockets were developed decades ago and where the Boeing-built SLS is now managed.

The announcement was shared by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as part of the agency's mandate to once again dominate the global race in space. NASA's plans to establish a Gateway station in lunar orbit will provide a staging area for missions to the surface. With the growing space ambitions of other countries and the private sector, however, the U.S. administration wants to show that it is also continuing to work and develop.

But on Tuesday, he expressed confidence that the SLS, or Space Launch System, would be ready for the job.

"Regardless of what path we end up pursuing, I think Florida is in a really good position to support and thrive regardless of what direction we go", said Ketcham. "NASA technologically could do this, it all comes down to budget and political will".