The plan to bring humans to the moon four years earlier than expected is taking shape in the eyes of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and he is pretty sure that is feasible.
Initially, the agency will launch two Orion space probes – one with humans and one without – around the moon on the back of the government's heavy rocket rocket. Then, the agency plans to gain the help of a trading company for the rocket parts of a space station into the orbit of the moon by 2024. Eventually, officials are mixing the government's rocket manifesto to use their last flight in 2024 to send people to this lunar station instead of to a probe to Europe, the Jupiter's moon.
And while all this is done, NASA will develop a Human Lunar Landing Explorer to bring astronauts to the surface of the Moon Station, the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway.
That's a lot to do in five years. The problem is, above all, the money.
"We had strong mutual support and we've had strong budget inquiries in the past," Bridenstine said on Saturday in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "But this is another level of support, so we'll find out."
Bridenstine attended Rice University on Saturday at the Owls in Space Symposium.
Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, NASA planned to bring the humans back to the moon by 2028. But last month, Vice President Mike Pence told the agency to accelerate the time by 2024 with "all the resources".
This announcement met with cynicism, especially as the president's most recent budget request next year called for a $ 500 million cut in the agency. And that would not be enough, of course.
So NASA is working on a budget that enables faster operations without sacrificing security. Bridenstine said he would provide this budget to Congress in late April or early May.
He is not sure how much money is needed, but hopes that the application will ask Congress for multi-year funding for the lunar programs so that political whims and changing support will not jeopardize the 2024 plan by taking away the needed money.
"Financing year after year is risky," he said. "This would reduce the risk."
Also at risk of endangering the moon in 2024 is the government-infested heavy rocket. The space launch system rocket built by Boeing should launch Orion 2017.
However, it was still behind schedule. Boeing recently told NASA that it was not possible to fix the June 2020 launch date, which would send Orion around the moon without crew.
This would not be particularly useful after the pence statement. The agency examined whether it would be better to launch Orion with a commercial missile instead – and she found a viable option – but NASA decided it still would not meet the launch date.
Bridenstine said agency officials have found a way to accelerate the first SLS launch, putting him just six months behind schedule. In the event SLS continues to struggle, the agency is developing a commercial backup plan.
The agency needed another SLS – or an equally powered machine – to send the first crew part of Orion to the Moon by 2023 and a third to 2024 by the third gateway to the SLS, then would be launched via a commercial missile.
"That's something we should think about for a second or third effort [the Space Launch System rocket] continue to be demanded, "said Bridenstine on Saturday the Houston Chronicle. If we think about 2023/2024, we have another way to put together the parts of now, if we want, and we go through that process. "
Bridenstine said the agency is already working on a lunar landing pilot to bring people to the surface. It will still have to find a commercial company to bring the elements of the gateway into orbit until 2024.
Alex Stuckey writes for the Houston Chronicle about NASA and science. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.