NASA announced its latest plan to return astronauts to the moon in 2024 on Monday, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $ 28 billion, of which $ 16 billion would be spent on the lunar lander.
Congress, facing elections on November 3, has to sign funding for a project that has been identified as a top priority by US President Donald Trump. The $ 28 billion would cover budget years 2021-25.
In a phone briefing with journalists Monday about the Artemis return people to the moon mission, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that “political risk” was often the number one threat to NASA’s work, especially before such crucial elections.
Barack Obama has canceled plans for a manned mission to Mars after his predecessor spent billions of dollars on the project.
If Congress approves the first tranche of $ 3.2 billion by Christmas, “we are still on our way to a moon landing in 2024,” Bridenstine said.
“To be clear, we’re going to the South Pole,” he said, ruling out the locations of the Apollo landings on the lunar equator between 1969 and 1972. “Nothing else is discussed.”
Three different projects are competing to build the lunar lander, which will bring two astronauts – one of them a woman – from their ship Orion to the moon.
The first is being developed by Blue Origin, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. The other two projects are carried out by Elon Musks SpaceX and Dynetics.
The first flight, Artemis I, which is scheduled for November 2021, will be unmanned: the new giant rocket SLS, which is currently in the test phase, will launch for the first time with the Orion capsule.
Artemis II. Will take astronauts around the moon in 2023, but not land.
Eventually, Artemis III will be the equivalent of Apollo 11 in 1969, but the lunar stay will be longer – for a week – and include two to five “extravehicular activities”.
“The science we would do is really very different from anything we’ve done before,” said Bridenstine. “We have to remember that during the Apollo era we thought the moon was bone dry. Now we know that there is a lot of water ice and we know it is at the South Pole.”