NASA leaders said Monday the White House will seek $1.6 billion in extra funding from Congress this fiscal year to meet its ambitious goal of sending a man and a woman to the Moon’s surface in 2024, a program now officially named “Artemis” for the sister of Apollo, namesake of the original Moon mission program.
“The first time humanity went to the Moon, it was under the name Apollo,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a telephone press conference Monday night. “The Apollo program forever changed history and I know all of us in this room and on the phone are very proud of the Apollo program.
“It turns out that Apollo had a twin sister – Artemis,” Bridenstine said. “She happened to be the goddess of the Moon. Our astronaut office is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and the first woman to the Moon.
“I have a daughter who is 11 years old,” Bridenstine said. “and I want her to be able to see herself in the same role as the next women who go to the moon see themselves in today. This is really a beautiful moment in American history and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
The extra funding is what NASA will need “to really get started to meet those timelines” required for a 2024 mission, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier said. “All we need … we’ve got in this budget.”
The new appropriation would mean no cuts to NASA’s science missions or funds for the International Space Station. It would increase science funding by $90 million.
NASA’s plan relies on both its Space Launch System (SLS) and commercial companies such as SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin, although none of those is officially part of the mission yet.
The plan calls for NASA to proceed with its first two SLS fly-around missions to the Moon – the first with no crew and the second with an astronaut crew – then use the third SLS mission to support the landing.
The lunar orbiting space station called the Gateway will be scaled back to meet the timeline, and NASA will need a transfer vehicle, a lander and an ascent vehicle for the mission. Those last three are likely where commercial companies would take the lead. NASA’s European partners will also keep their critical role of providing life support systems for Orion.
Asked if the mission could be stopped if President Trump loses his bid for re-election in 2020, Bridenstine said NASA’s plan will need bipartisan support but actually lessens political risk by moving faster. “Our goal is to build a program that gets us to the surface as soon as possible, one that America can be proud of,” Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine also answered the question of why go back to the Moon. “Why do we go to the Moon? Because we want to go to Mars,” Bridenstine said. And he said America can’t do that without what it learns by going back to the Moon first.
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