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Trump Administration targets 2024 for next moon mission

Trump Administration targets 2024 for next moon mission

NASA administrator discussed launching astronauts inside Orion, on a SpaceX rocket.

After returning the priorities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration back to aeronautics and space, the Trump Administration is targeting 2024 as the year that the U.S. will launch its next mission to the moon.

Vice President Mike Pence discussed the goal during a recent meeting of the National Space Council.

“It is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return astronauts to the moon within the next five years,” Mr. Pence said at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. On the stage nearby was a model of an Apollo landing module that first transported American astronauts to the lunar surface 50 years ago.

…NASA’s current schedule sets 2023 for the first flight of Orion with astronauts aboard. A moon landing would not occur until 2028, almost a decade from now.

At present, the space agency plans to first build a small outpost orbiting the moon, called Gateway. Astronauts would travel between the outpost and the lunar surface.

“Ladies and gentleman, that is just not good enough,” Mr. Pence said of the timeline, laid out in budget documents weeks ago. “We are better than that.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine followed up with a discussion on how to expedite this, with a public-private partnership with SpaceX and its Falcon Heavy rocket.

…Bridenstine then laid out one scenario that has huge implications, not for a 2020 launch, but one later on. Until now, it was thought that only NASA’s Space Launch System could directly inject the Orion spacecraft into a lunar orbit, which made it the preferred option for getting astronauts to the Moon for any potential landing by 2024. However, Bridenstine said there was another option: a Falcon Heavy rocket with an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage built by United Launch Alliance. “Talk about strange bedfellows,” he mused about the two rocket rivals.

“It would require time [and] cost, and there is risk involved,” Bridenstine said. “But guess what—if we’re going to land boots on the Moon in 2024, we have time, and we have the ability to accept some risk and make some modifications. All of that is on the table. There is nothing sacred here that is off the table. And that is a potential capability that could help us land boots on the Moon in 2024.”

With this comment, Bridenstine broke a political taboo. For the first time, really, a senior NASA official had opened the door to NASA flying its first crewed missions to the Moon on a Falcon Heavy rocket built by SpaceX. An official with the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Another space project may be the beneficiary of this new impetus to return. William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, indicates that the “Gateway Project” that establishes a lunar orbital outpost for Mars missions could provide extra incentive to speed up the lunar launch.

The small, periodically visited outpost near the moon was originally conceived to test technologies needed for a trip to Mars or asteroids. But NASA’s partners, mainly Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, would only play along if it served as way station to the moon as well.

Rebranded simply “Gateway,” the agency also began drafting a partially reusable lunar lander that could be parked at the outpost between sorties to the lunar surface. Other companies, like Lockheed Martin, have designed reusable lunar spacecraft designed to dock with the Gateway.

Gateway proponents assert that it would be more efficient and convenient to assemble the components of the lunar expedition at a hub in the orbit around the moon. Once assembled, the lunar landings could proceed with more destination options.

Do you think that if a movie is ever made of our return, it will feature an American flag?


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Mission to Washington D.C.

broomhandle | April 7, 2019 at 1:21 pm

LOPG should be cancelled immediately. In its place should be either Mars Direct or a Moon Direct plan with concurrent development of NTR.

    We are far from being able to send a manned Mars mission.
    The very viability of human existence there is in serious doubt. Even the trip to Mars may not be survivable due to radiation levels.

    However, establishing a permanent presence on the moon is very doable. We should make that the 1st priority.

      tom_swift in reply to Pasadena Phil. | April 7, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      The radiation in lunar orbit is no less than that along an orbit to Mars.

        I’m going to give your more time to rethink that statement. You can’t be that dumb.

          tom_swift in reply to Pasadena Phil. | April 7, 2019 at 5:06 pm

          I’m not.

          You, though, are another matter.

          clintack in reply to Pasadena Phil. | April 8, 2019 at 7:33 am

          The Moon is outside the Earth’s magnetosphere for part of its orbit, if that’s what you’re getting at.

          tom_swift in reply to Pasadena Phil. | April 8, 2019 at 12:55 pm

          The Moon is outside the Earth’s magnetosphere for part of its orbit, if that’s what you’re getting at.

          Of course. That’s where the radiation comes from. Bremsstrahlung, electromagnetic radiation generated by charged particles from the sun accelerated in a magnetic field. That would include gamma rays, which are tough to shield. For a while in the late 1950s it was feared that this would make manned Earth orbit impossible.

          The good news is—no magnetic field, no radiation from that source. The Moon and Mars are both far outside this region, ergo, much lower gamma radiation. The magnetic field of the Moon is negligible. Jupiter has a monster field, but we don’t have to worry about that one for a while.

          I imagine the difference Phil alludes to is that shielding can be accomplished by folks visiting the moon, while providing shielding on the very long trip to Mars becomes difficult if not impossible due to weight issues.

NASA is trying to remain viable, nothing more.

Look, the US abandoned manned space exploration in the 1970s. We needed the money for the expanding social welfare system designed to keep politicians in office. And, there was no private push into space, as there was very little short-term economic incentive. So, all that was left for NASA to do was Earth-orbit satellites and unmanned deep space mission. As the NASA budget got cut more and more deeply, to continue funding, and expanding, social welfare programs, this gave incentive for private companies to produce launch vehicles which could handle commercial satellite launches. The problem now is that the US government [We the People] can not afford to fund manned space exploration and maintain the level of government provided social welfare that we currently have. We wasted 50 yeaars and we probably won’t get that back.

Connivin Caniff | April 7, 2019 at 1:30 pm

Don’t waste your time with this. We don’t need people in space. They really weren’t made for that; we have much better alternatives. Instead, concentrate on creating a several paragraph, simple piece of proposed legislation that would stop illegal crossovers immediately, and keep launching that into the infinite vacuum of Congress.

What ever happened to Muslim outreach?

I’d rather see combined international effort using lunar raw materials to robotically manufacture a moon based outpost using 3d printers making 12’x8′ “concrete like” modular panels composed of lunar regolith, lunar water and hardener/binder compounds made on earth. Moon Legos.

*earth based microwave emiters used to release water from lunar regolith.

What’s the point? There should be an object to any government program. Just redoing what was done in ancient history is not terribly useful.

Private industry won’t do it. There has to be some chance of eventual payoff for that to make sense, and there isn’t one here. There’s no chance of something unexpected happening—15th century Europeans were interested in a cheap way to get to the Indies, and happened to blunder into Terra Incognita instead. But we know that there’s no New World between here and the Moon.

The only thing which seems plausible is the worry that the Chinese will eventually manage to land someone who will claim the Moon for the PRC, based on the fact that no American resides there. Not that it would do China much good to “own” it.

Is there an object to government program? Tell me the object to these: Want to tell me that lunar exploration is LESS worthy than these expenditures? Why the anti-science bias? You have no imagination.

stevewhitemd | April 7, 2019 at 5:42 pm

I have no doubt that a return to the Moon would be of substantial value to science. What I don’t see is a compelling reason to do so within the next five years. I also don’t see the long-term need for people on the Moon other than a small science team.

I think of the parallel example of the science team currently located at the American station on Antartica, at McMurdo Sound. We keep a small group there (about 200 to 1200 people depending on the season), but we haven’t ever tried to expand that. There’s only so much science to be done. With the greater difficulty and expense of the Moon, we’d never have more than perhaps a dozen or two people there. There’s only so much science you can do at one time.

So other than fundamental science, why should we go back to the Moon? What’s the compelling reason?

    clintack in reply to stevewhitemd. | April 8, 2019 at 7:40 am

    The moon is halfway to everywhere else in the solar system.

    It’s not the end station, like Antarctica, but the way station that will let us get to everywhere else.

Materials, energy, strategic defense, lots of reasons to be in space.

Don’t be shortsighted. You’re enemies aren’t.

DouglasJBender | April 8, 2019 at 9:03 am

“Without a vision, the people perish.”

Albigensian | April 8, 2019 at 9:33 am

We’re much more risk-averse now than we were in the 1960s. Death in space was acknowledged as a significant risk then, which could be reduced but not eliminated. And compromises were made even there: for example, a “lifeboat” strategy to return Apollo astronauts from lunar orbit or the lunar surface (if the return rocket or ascent stage had failed to perform) could have been implemented, but would have delayed the program.

Today it’s still understood that lethal risk can’t be eliminated, but we’d be far more likely to bust schedule and/or budget to reduce it as much as possible.

But there’s also the general sclerosis that’s made it increasingly difficult to build anything large and expensive. The Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan, for example: this might have cost less than 10% as much a century ago as now, and still not have taken as long. Boston’s Big Dig, San Francisco’s new Oakland-Bay Bridge, etc., etc. show that when it comes to large publicly-funded projects everything takes longer and costs more (if it can be done at all).

And then there’s the question of whether it’s worth it. From a pure science PoV, robotic spacecraft will always be a far better value than crewed ones and, yes, electronics is the one area in which technical progress has been huge: no one’s yet built a rocket larger than the Saturn V, but the gulf between 1969 digital control systems and those available today is enormous.

But science wasn’t the reason Americans went to the moon in 1969, and it need not be the reason for doing so today. In 1969, we went because we knew if we didn’t the USSR would. Today it seems overwhelmingly likely that if we don’t, China will. And even aside from national prestige, the Moon may have strategic value.