NASA unveils plans to send first woman, next man to the Moon

Katie Ramirez
September 26, 2020

NASA has released an updated outline of its Artemis program to return United States astronauts to the Moon and set up a permanent human presence there, beginning with the landing of the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

In a phone briefing with journalists on the Artemis mission to return human to the Moon, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that "political risks" were often the biggest threat to NASA's work, especially before a crucial election.

The NASA plan, dubbed Artemis, is a multi-staged lunar programme involving manned and unmanned missions to the Moon.

NASA said it's "powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft are closer than ever to their first integrated launch".

NASA said it wants to land near the lunar south pole, dispelling recent reports that the space agency was planning to land near the sites of former Apollo missions.

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"Our work to catalyze the USA space economy with public-private partnerships has made it possible to accomplish more than ever before", Bridenstine wrote in the introduction of the plan.

For now, the Artemis plan is to use humans and robots to search for resources such as water and usable materials on the lunar surface and fine-tune landing and mobility technologies, allowing astronauts to travel farther and farther on the moon. It has invited commercial partners to bid on flying payloads to explore the Moon surface and regolith, measure the Earth-Moon distance and solar winds, test radiation-resistant electronics, study the electric and magnetic fields as well as the heat flow from the Moon interior, develop methods to bring Moon regolith back to Earth, collect images from the Moon surface during landing and deploy the first GPS positioning signals on the Moon. The Space Launch System (SLS) is waiting for a final series of tests, with its core stage and four engines ready for dry runs this fall.

Three teams are now developing competing designs for the Human Landing System, or HLS: SpaceX, which holds an initial $135 million NASA contract; Dynetics, now funded at $253 million; and a "national team", funded at $579 million, that includes Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. "We have to remember during the Apollo era, we thought the moon was bone dry".

"It's really simple. If Congress doesn't fund the moon landing program, then it won't be achieved (in 2024), I mean it's really that simple", Bridenstine said. "The Gateway is critically important for the sustainable mission that we have in front of us", he said. The $28 billion budget would cover the period 2021-25. Other modules may be added later. This mission should give the crew an opportunity to manually pilot Orion, in a demonstration to assess the spacecraft's "handling qualities and related hardware and software" which "cannot be readily gained on the ground in preparation for rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking, as well as undocking operations in lunar orbit beginning on Artemis III", according to NASA.

An Artemis Base Camp will be built over the next decade and will include new rovers, power systems and habitats on the surface for long-term exploration of the moon, NASA said. But use of Gateway is not required for the first moon landing, and the landers are being created to dock directly with Orion capsules if desired. "There's no discussion of anything other than that", said Bridenstine.

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