A senior NASA official said Tuesday that the Space Launch System, a huge heavy-lift rocket years behind schedule, could launch astronauts on a moon landing mission in 2024 on just its third flight to meet a goal announced last month by Vice President Mike Pence, while commercial companies will be entrusted with more responsibility to develop a lunar lander and a modest mini-space station, or Gateway, in lunar orbit.
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that NASA should land astronauts near the south pole of the moon within five years “by any means necessary,” calling for “new urgency” in the U.S. space program and sounding a warning for entrenched aerospace contractors to better meet schedule and cost commitments, or else lose work to other companies.
President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request includes $21.02 billion for NASA, funding the agency’s ongoing efforts to develop commercial spacecraft and infrastructure in low-Earth orbit and to press ahead with construction and launch of the world’s most powerful rocket and the Orion crew ships that will carry astronauts back to the moon.
In what came across as a combination pep rally and old-time revival, Vice President Mike Pence asked flight controllers, engineers and astronauts at the Johnson Space Center Thursday to “rededicate” themselves to carrying out the Trump administration’s drive to establish a permanent U.S. presence around the moon in the early 2020s before eventual voyages to Mars.
The White House’s $19.9 billion NASA budget outline released Monday would continue development of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule and begin the deployment of a mini-space station around the moon as soon as 2022, but the proposal would cancel WFIRST, a flagship-class astronomy mission planned for launch in the mid-2020s.