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NASA’s Bridenstine on Project Artemis’ Narrow Path, Potential To Inspire

July 16, 2019 (EIRNS)—Conducting numerous media interviews July 14-15 as the Apollo Moon landing’s 50th anniversary approaches, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine described the difficult fight NASA is engaged in to return to the Moon as the test ground and base to Mars travel, within five years. Bridenstine also expressed his confidence that the agency would carry out the mission and inspire millions of Americans in the process, as Project Apollo did a half-century ago. Apollo is still celebrated 50 years later and still generates widespread public support and optimism about space exploration, he told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” interviewers, because of the feats of human progress it accomplished. “What will we do that will be celebrated 50 years from now?” Bridenstine said he had thoroughly discussed President Donald Trump’s “Don’t talk about the Moon” statement with the President, and agreed that human travel to Mars is “the generational mission”; development of the Moon is the means to carry out that mission. Bridenstine told NPR in another July 15 interview, “It just so happens that the Moon is a proving ground, so we can go to the Moon and we can learn how to live and work on another world. Prove the technology and then take all of that to Mars.”

With difficulties posed by both “cost and schedule”—by the problems of Boeing, Space X and others in testing and perfecting their rockets and capsules, and by NASA’s slowly rising but still inadequate budget—Bridenstine showed the administration making the path more difficult, by rejecting cooperation with China, still barred by the Wolf Amendment. He was asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” July 14 whether China might beat the United States to the Moon, or whether there might be cooperation with China in this. He answered “I can tell you as of right now, ‘no’ to both.... We do not need to cooperate with China; we are so far ahead”; and described the number of times the United States has carried out soft landings on Mars.

The administrator said he was confident that the additional $1.6 billion NASA needs in the 2020 fiscal year to keep to “cost and schedule,” promised by President Trump, would be delivered by the White House despite lukewarm support and partisan division in Congress. His estimate of the $20 billion over five years required to carry out Project Artemis, however, is clearly another matter. Bridenstine told C-SPAN interviewers he was hopeful “private funding” would replace some of the Federal funding. He said that he had personally made the decision to replace senior engineer Bill Gerstenmaier, as head of the Human Exploration division, with three new leaders fully committed to a narrow path of “cost and schedule.” This will effectively create “space launch,” “Gateway,” and “Moon to Mars” sections of Human Exploration, each with its planned timetable and budget.

Bridenstine did not wish to comment decisively on whether a flight on a (commercial) U.S. rocket to the Space Station will occur this year. While not directly part of Project Artemis, this involves the great challenge posed to that Project by the loss of so much American technological-industrial capacity and skilled manpower since Apollo. “Commercial crew has some problems. Sometimes they have struggles,” he said. He came down on SpaceX for its silence for days after its capsule blew up during a test. “If anything like this happens again, within a couple of hours, we will hold a press conference,” Bridenstine said.

Project Artemis is a beautiful mission, the Administrator said, but requires meeting ambitious schedules under difficult stress.

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