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Here’s why NASA’s audacious return to the Moon just might work


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"Starting a war between Alabama and SpaceX will be the end of the Moon program."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visits Kennedy Space Center in 2018.
Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visits Kennedy Space Center in 2018.
NASA

Speaking in front of a high-fidelity model of the Apollo program's Lunar Module spacecraft, Vice President Mike Pence charged NASA with accelerating its Moon plans last week. Instead of 2028, Pence wanted boots on the ground four years earlier, before the end of 2024. This marked the rarest of all moments in spaceflight—a schedule moving left instead of to the right.

 

Understandably, the aerospace community greeted the announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism. Many rocket builders, spaceship designers, flight controllers, and space buffs have seen this movie before. Both in 1989 and 2004, Republican administrations have announced ambitious Moon-then-Mars deep space plans only to see them die for lack of funding and White House backing.

 

And yet, this new proposal holds some promise. Pence, as well as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, have adopted a clear goal for the agency and promised enduring political support. Moreover, they have said the “end” matters more than the “means.” This suggests that whatever rockets and spacecraft NASA uses to reach the Moon, the plan should be based on the best-available, most cost-effective technology. In short, they want to foster a healthy, open competition in the US aerospace industry to help NASA and America reach its goals.

 

At a town hall meeting Monday for space agency employees, Bridenstine characterized the Moon 2024 initiative as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for NASA.” This may be a tad hyperbolic, but it does represent a rare chance for the sprawling bureaucratic federal agency—whose human exploration programs have been adrift for decades—to embrace a brighter future.

 

Therefore, this marks an important, if uncertain, moment in US spaceflight. To understand how we got here and where we're going, Ars has talked with a dozen well-placed sources in the aerospace industry, from new space companies and large aerospace contractors to senior NASA leaders and political insiders. Most of them are not named due to their sensitive positions; many of them see challenges ahead.

 

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Poster's note: This is a long, comprehensive multi-page article with image slideshows. Please visit the link below to view the full article.

 

Source: Here’s why NASA’s audacious return to the Moon just might work (Ars Technica)

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