NASA puts return to moon in crosshairs with ambitious timetable

NASA is buzzing with excitement these days about its ambitious new mission to return to the moon — this time to stay. The agency set an aggressive timetable to have the Gateway space station orbiting the moon by 2024, then begin ferrying astronauts from the station to the lunar surface sometime after 2026. And that is just the beginning. Gateway also will serve as an outpost for deep space science and exploration, including a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, according to NASA. The timeline, which some scientists say is overly optimistic, isn’t fast enough for President Trump, who dreams of sending humans on the 33.9-million mile journey to the red planet during his administration. “We want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term. So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” he quipped in a video call last year with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The president likely will have to make do with getting astronauts aboard Gateway before the end of a potential second term. Just hitting the 2024 goal will take major technical feats and a bunch of cash. So far, the Trump administration and Congress have kept the money flowing, with $19.5 billion in 2018 and $19.9 billion teed up for 2019. NASA has spent years drafting plans for Gateway, officials known as Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway or LOP-G, but the space agency has not yet built any of it. The design for the 55-ton orbiting station consists of several components: a power and propulsion unit, a habitat module to house astronauts, an airlock section where spacecraft will dock and a massive robotic arm. The first section NASA wants to finish is the power and propulsion element, currently scheduled to deploy in 2022. If everything goes according to plan, the next pieces — habitat and airlock modules — would quickly follow. They would be delivered by the agency’s new deep space rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS. Heralded as the world’s most powerful rocket, SLS has been under development for a decade and is scheduled for its debut flight in 2020. The flight, code named EM-1, is supposed to send the empty Orion crew capsule on a three-week voyage around the moon.

Exciting!!  For more, click on the text above.     🙂

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