Today at the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, Vice President Mike Pence declared that the Trump administration is committed to sending humans back to the Moon at 2024, four years earlier than NASA's previous target of 2028.
Pence, speaking that NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, noted that the administration will meet this goal “by any means necessary.” He called on NASA to adopt new policies and argued that the space agency would need to embrace a new mindset that starting with setting bold goals and staying on schedule. ”To do that, the administration may consider ditching some of NASA's current contractors ̵
1; which are currently developing new vehicles to take into deep space – and using commercially developed rockets instead. "If commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the Moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets will be," said Pence. “Urgency must be our watch.”
However, Pence offered few clear recommendations and changes that would help accelerate NASA's return, apart from potentially switching rockets and contractors. "It was rhetoric about" at all means possible "and" we will provide the resources necessary "and" leadership is essential, "" John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University, tells The Verge . “I mean, they're all good words. But the devil's in the details. ”
The administration has been very clear about its desire to return humans to the Moon since the beginning of the Trump presidency. In December of 2017, Trump signed his first space policy directive, instructing NASA to send humans back to the Moon. However, NASA has been relatively vague about its timeline for following through this directive. Recently, the agency came up with 2028 as a placeholder date for the first humans to land on the Moon, and now the administration is expressing its dyspleasure with that timeline. "Ladies and gentlemen, that's just not good enough," Pence said during his speech.
Right now, the space agency's strategy for getting back to the lunar surface relies on building a space station in orbit around the Moon, called the Gateway . Such a platform would serve as a way station for astronauts to travel to and from the Moon's surface. Additionally, NASA has been focusing on developing a new monster rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which would be used to launch a crew capsule called Orion into deep space. Not only would the SLS send people to the Gateway, but it would also be used to deliver cargo and help bring new modules to the lunar space station. And just now, NASA called on commercial companies to come up with designs for landers that could transport humans from the Gateway to the Moon.