Saturday, March 30, 2019

Pence Announces Plan to Return America to the Moon by 2024

Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, March 26, directed NASA to land humans on the moon by 2024, four years earlier than the agency's current plans. Credit: White House

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that NASA should land astronauts near the south pole of the moon within five years “by any means necessary,” calling for “new urgency” in the U.S. space program and sounding a warning for entrenched aerospace contractors to better meet schedule and cost commitments, or else lose work to other companies.

“It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years,” Pence said. “The first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil.”

NASA and the Trump administration previously aimed to land astronauts on the moon by 2028. Pence said the National Space Council, which he chairs, will send recommendations to President Trump for a “major course correction” at NASA.

“To accomplish this, we must redouble our efforts,” Pence said.

During his remarks Tuesday at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Pence singled out the troubled Space Launch System — a heavy-lift rocket in development to launch crews into deep space — as an example of a program “plagued by bureaucratic inertia.”

Development of the Space Launch System is managed at Marshall, which has been the home of NASA’s major rocket propulsion programs since the 1960s.

SLS program managers earlier this month said the rocket’s first flight was likely to be delayed to 2021, the latest in a string of schedule slips since the launcher was unveiled in 2011. At that time, officials said the SLS would be ready for an inaugural launch in 2017.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said March 13 that he ordered engineers to examine whether NASA’s Orion crew capsule, which the SLS is intended to launch, could instead fly around the moon on an unpiloted test flight using a pair of commercial heavy-lift launchers to keep the Orion shakedown mission on track for 2020, and untether it from additional SLS delays.

During Tuesday’s National Space Council meeting — after Pence’s remarks — Bridenstine said he accepted the Trump administration’s challenge to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.

“Our agency, NASA, is going to do everything in its power to meet that vision, to meet that deadline, and you have my full commitment to achieving that,” Bridenstine said during Tuesday’s meeting in Alabama.

In a written statement issued later Tuesday, Bridenstine said NASA will take action in the coming days and weeks to accomplish the lunar landing goal.

“I have already directed a new alignment within NASA to ensure we effectively support this effort, which includes establishing a new mission directorate to focus on the formulation and execution of exploration development activities,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “We are calling it the Moon to Mars Mission Directorate.”

Bridenstine said NASA’s review of commercial launch options, which would have likely included a combination of SpaceX and United Launch Alliance rockets, showed there is an opportunity to use commercial boosters for deep space missions in the future, but that the Space Launch System provides the surest path to achieving a lunar landing by 2024.

“If we want to achieve 2024, we have to have SLS,” Bridenstine said.

But in his speech, Pence cautioned the NASA and its contractors should not assume the Space Launch System is the only path to the moon.

“We must accelerate the SLS program to meet this objective, but know this, the president has directed NASA and Administrator Jim Bridesnteine to accomplish this goal by any means necessary,” Pence said. “In order to succeed … we must focus on the mission over the means. You must consider every available option and platform to meet our goals, including industry, government and the entire American space enterprise. Our administration is committed to this goal.”

Pence continued by expressing commitment to the Marshall Space Flight Center, a facility once helmed by German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the chief architect of the Saturn 5 moon rocket.

“But to be clear, we’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will,” Pence said. “If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development, then we’ll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be.

“Urgency must be our watch word,” Pence said. “Failure to achieve our goal to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years is not an option.”

But the Trump administration’s $21 billion fiscal year 2020 budget request for NASA released March 11 proposes a $375 million cut in funding for the Space Launch System, and would defer the introduction of a more powerful SLS upper stage capable of launching Orion crew capsules and modules for a mini-space station in lunar orbit on a single mission.

Before Pence’s announcement Tuesday, NASA planned to first build a space complex in lunar orbit called the Gateway, with contributions from international and commercial partners. NASA envisions the Gateway as a waypoint on the way to the lunar surface, where Orion spaceships with astronauts will dock before departing on lunar landers that can transport crews and cargo between the Gateway and the moon.

No comments:

Post a Comment