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Bridenstine Speaks Out on the Moon-Mars Mission, ‘NASA Is Up to Doing It’

April 9, 2019(EIRNS)—Speaking today at the 35th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine laid out before the attendees what the mission is, and why it is important to carry it out.

He described how his generation missed out on the Apollo landing, and that his first space memory is from when he was in the 5th grade, and the class watched the Challenger accident. In 2003 Bridenstine was a military pilot aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, when the news was reporting the Columbia accident. He wants younger generations to “have memories of greatness, not tragedies,” he said. Referencing a discussion with ESA head Jan Woerner, he mentioned a phrase he has adopted from him: “We are not going back to the Moon, we are going forward to the Moon.” “NASA is up to do it,” said Bridenstine.

He said the plan hasn’t changed, just the timing. He described the Gateway, which apparently they will keep in the plan (some of the hardware is already being built). The elements that are still needed, he said, are a descent vehicle from the Gateway high orbit to a lower Lunar orbit, a vehicle to take the lander to the surface, and a propulsion stage from the surface back to low Lunar orbit; to be done with public/private and international partnerships.

Bridenstine was very clear that the Lunar landing goal is primary. The program will be carried out in two phases, he explained:

In the first phase, he said, NASA “will get rid of distractions” that interfere with the 2024 goal. It starts with NASA science payloads on commercial landers, maybe by the end of this year. It will culminate in the manned landing.

In the second phase, by 2028, “sustainability” is key, by which he means reusability of all vehicles—landers, tugs between Lunar orbit, etc. Other capabilities would also be added, including using the resources on the Moon (water ice is the only thing ever mentioned). There is no plan (yet) to develop the Moon’s other resources. The Lunar program is envisioned as enabling the later mission to Mars. NASA will create a Moon-to-Mars group to consolidate all the related research.

Bridenstine then described the new discoveries by spacecraft on Mars, and the next, Mars 2020 rover, which is the first step in returning samples. He reported that the discoveries point further to the possibility of life on Mars.

He addressed, as he has before, the concern that funding the Lunar program will “cannibalize” other programs, especially in space science. He stated that there are political challenges (getting Congress onboard) and budget challenges (getting money out of the Office of Management and Budget), and that NASA is working on an amendment to the FY20 budget for an increase. NASA will also work on getting an exception if there is a continuing resolution.

Bridenstine again stressed that leadership will include partners, certainly the ISS partners, and also the many new space programs, which may not have a lot to contribute now, but will.

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