Two weeks after the successful launch of two astronauts to the International Space Station, the director of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has been promoted to chief of the agency’s human spaceflight directorate, a portfolio that includes the Artemis moon program, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Friday.
NASA has signed a $187 million contract with Northrop Grumman to complete the preliminary design of a pressurized crew habitat for the planned Gateway mini-space station near the moon, and agency officials have discussed new details about plans to launch first two Gateway modules on a single heavy-lift rocket.
Aiming to reduce risk and costs, NASA has decided to launch the first two modules of the Gateway station in lunar orbit on the same heavy-lift rocket in 2023, rather than fly them on separate rockets and dock them together in deep space, according to the the agency’s chief human spaceflight manager.
SpaceX’s proposal to land astronauts on the moon using the company’s reusable Starship vehicle could be “game-changing” for space exploration, but comes with risks and complexity that “threaten the schedule viability” to achieve NASA’s goal of returning crews moon by the end of 2024, agency officials said.
The next time astronauts land on the moon, they will ride to the lunar surface in a spacecraft that looks a lot different than the Apollo-era landing module last used in 1972. Lander concepts proposed by SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics — which won a combined $967 million in NASA funding Thursday — take wildly different approaches to carrying crews to the moon.