The Trump administration has set forth an aggressive timeline to send humans back to the Moon. Now, experts say that NASA can most likely meet that timeline, but it will be difficult.
Recently, American Vice President Mike Pence told NASA to send humans to the Moon by 2024, which is four years sooner than the original plan of sending astronauts by 2028. Pence explained that the new date was because they needed to safeguard America’s leadership and dominance in space.
Amid the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, which Pence chairs, he stated that it’s imperative for the United States to remain first in space, not only to move the economy forward and secure the nation but because the rules and values of space will be written by those who can arrive there first and stay.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s Administrator also said that he was confident they could achieve the 2024 objective, and so did Lockheed Martin, the aerospace firm that is the main contractor for Orion, the crew capsule that NASA astronauts will use to launch to the moon and further destinations beyond our solar system.
For instance, officials from Lockheed explained that the company could construct a crewed lunar lander fast enough, by using new technologies developed for Orion. This lander could arrive on the lunar surface by 2024, as long as it departs from an early version of the Gateway, which is the space station intended to orbit the Moon that NASA intends to begin developing in 2022 for landing operations.
In an email, Lisa Callahan, the vice president and the general manager of commercial, civil space at Lockheed Martin Space explained that this method would have an earlier landing ability complete with reusable technology that also lays the groundwork for a future expanded and sustainable presence of astronauts on the Moon. Callahan added that although it’s an aggressive schedule, it’s doable and could help kick-off a new era of lunar human exploration, Mars exploration, and beyond.
Even scientists or who aren’t involved in the project say that it’s possible to reach the Moon by 2024.
However, the space policy expert John Logsdon explained that keeping to this aggressive schedule will require a united effort by NASA, the White House, and the Office of Management and budget.
What’s more, Brian Weeden, another space policy expert and the director of program planning at the nonprofit Secure World Foundation, told Space.com that it comes down to politics. Throughout history, Congress and the White House pull NASA in different directions, and NASA doesn’t have enough money to do everything they are asked to do.
Weeden continued by saying that both the executive and legislative branches will need to find common ground if they want to make 2024 a reality while NASA could need to modify their deep-space strategy too.
That strategy means sending astronauts to space aboard Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS), a massive rocket that’s still in the works. SLS is set to launch for the first time next year when it will send Orion on a test flight around the moon, an initiative called Exploration Mission 1.
To date, the SLS has undergone multiple delays. Therefore, sticking to the 2024 deadline could mean opting for some commercial solution, according to Weeden. Either way, Weeden feels that both NASA and America itself will need to accept some increased risk.