WASHINGTON (AFP) — NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine noted on Monday that “political risks” are often the biggest threat to NASA’s work, especially before such a crucial election as that happening in November.
He cited as example Barack Obama rejecting plans for a manned Mars mission, after his predecessor spent billions of dollars on the project.
Bridenstine made the statement as NASA revealed that its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module.
Congress will have to sign off on the financing for a project that has been set by President Donald Trump as a top priority. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25.
If Congress approves the first tranche of $3.2 billion by Christmas, “we’re still on track for a 2024 moon landing,” Bridenstine said.
“To be clear, we’re going to the South Pole,” he said, ruling out the sites of the Apollo landings on the Moon’s equator between 1969 and 1972. “There’s no discussion of anything other than that.”
Three different projects are in competition to build the lunar lander that will carry two astronauts — one of them a woman — to the Moon from their vessel Orion.
The first one is being developed by Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. The other two projects are being undertaken by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and by the company Dynetics.
The first flight, Artemis I, scheduled for November of 2021, will be unmanned: the new giant rocket SLS, currently in its test phase, will take off for the first time with the Orion capsule.