NASA’s #Moon2Mars mission was clear, and the proposed 2019 budgets were in sync for the planned timeline, and satisfactory to all the involved players. And then, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the National Space Council on March 26, 2019, and suddenly plans changed: Instead of getting American astronauts to touch ground on the moon again by 2028, now, the plan was to get humans on the lunar surface within the next five years, moving the human landing deadline up to 2024.
Capture2 Issued a white paper on U.S. missions in space based on the policy directives and proposed budgets for both this NASA mission and the development of the Space Force. That paper was released just before this announcement. Since then, we have been carefully following this new mandate to determine how it will affect both the mission and budget as originally planned.
NASA Administrator Jim Birdenstine’s response to the new 2024 timeline came with cautious optimism:
“We’ve been given an ambitious and exciting goal. History has proven when we’re given a task by the president, along with the resources and the tools, we can deliver. We are committed to making this happen. We have the people to achieve it. Now, we just need bipartisan support and the resources to get this done.”
To meet the new timeline, the original mission was split into two phases. The first phase will put American astronauts back on the moon by 2024. However sustainable missions, where a permanent base is established in the lunar orbit, will be established by the original goal of 2028. The permanent base is a part of the long-term needs for both further scientific exploration of the moon as well as a gateway for future Mars and other deep space missions.
The impact of this new time schedule is being felt in many different areas: in changes to the scope of existing contracts, the issuance of new opportunities, and new timelines for the development of additional key components, such as a lunar ascent module. Here are some of the highlights:
- Lockheed Martin has updated the design for its lunar lander, allowing the use of existing materials and systems, to help meet the new 2024 deadline.
- The scope of the NextSTEP Appendix H opportunity was significantly expanded on April 26th to include more elements, including Ascent, and Decent Elements and a Transfer Vehicle.
- NASA missed the April 15th deadline set by Congress for the budget modification to support this goal. The plan is to submit the modification by early May. This will give a clearer scope for what contracts will be accelerated for this new goal.
- In the meantime, many contractors are waiting for more news as they anticipate the new contracts that will be created for this effort.
While this new mandate is going to be tough to meet, and still faces obstacles in terms of both congressional support and funding, it is not impossible. Thepieces to the puzzle already exist; now we wait to see if they will all fall into place. The last time an American set foot on the moon was in 1972; the next time will occur in the next decade; the questions that remain are exactly how and when. Capture2 continues to watch the news and opportunities for this exciting return to the moon, and the bold new adventures that it will ignite.