Speaking before a Congressional subcommittee on Wednesday, 18 September 2019, Kenneth Bowersox, Acting Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said NASA is doing everything in its power to meet the deadline set by the White House, but admitted that it might be too short.
“What’s important is that we launch when we’re ready, that we have a successful mission when it launches, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you that just arbitrarily we’re going to make it,” said Bowersox during the meeting. “There’s a lot of risk in making the date, but we want to try to do it.”
The initial plan was to launch the lunar mission – called Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology – in 2028, but the deadline was eventually moved to 2024 at the urging of the Trump administration.
According to one of the mission’s greatest enthusiasts – the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the agency does not have any ground-breaking goals, but wants to engage the Moon as a critical training ground for the greatly anticipated future expeditions to Mars.
Bowersox expressed his appreciation for the goal’s aggressiveness, but emphasised that it might not be viable due to the need to secure funding and solve a whole plethora of technical issues.
The potential prematurity of the mission is exemplified by the continuously postponed debut of the Space Launch System (SLS) – a replacement for the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket – which remains in development to this day, and will undergo testing no earlier than by the end of 2020.
When asked about the reasons behind the delays, a former NASA exploration manager Doug Cooke said engineers often want to try out new technologies and ideas, which may lead to slightly longer periods of preparation.
During the meeting, Cooke also said he would prefer a less complicated mission – one closer to the original Apollo 11 – because, according to him, simply landing astronauts on the Moon is “hard enough as it is”.
Lastly, in response to questions regarding who will be the first to bring humans back to the lunar surface – NASA or a private company, such as SpaceX, Bowersox replied that he would still “bet on us [NASA] – but they might be part of our program”.
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