The Biden White House released a statement today reaffirming the U.S. commitment to return to the moon via the Artemis missions. While the ambitious deadline set for 2024 by the Trump administration might be a distant dream — budget issues, don’t you know — it seems the new administration is renewing efforts to put man and woman on the moon.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, kicked off today’s briefing with the following statement regarding the program after meeting with science officials in the administration. From Ars Technica:
Through the Artemis Program, the United States will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon—another man and a woman to the Moon, which is very exciting—conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars, and demonstrate America’s values. To date, only 12 humans have walked on the Moon— that was half a century ago. The Artemis Program, a waypoint to Mars, provides the opportunity to add numbers to that. Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY2021 omnibus spending bill, and certainly we support this effort and endeavor.
The Trump administration set the aggressive target of 2024 for the U.S. return to the moon, but NASA’s $24 billion price tag for the ambitious program just proved too rich for congressional blood. For the 2021 fiscal year, NASA received just $850 million for the critical Human Landing System hardware — a quarter of the funds requested.
The announcement of renewed support came after 11 Democratic senators sent a joint letter urging greater financial support of the Human Landing System, though they did not acknowledge that it was a congressional failure to adequately fund the endeavor, not the White House’s.
The program has many moving — and expensive — parts, as our own Jason Torchinsky wrote in September:
The key components of the Artemis program are the launch vehicle, the largely Shuttle System-derived Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the multipurpose human-carrying spacecraft, the Orion, a space station designed to orbit the Moon called The Gateway, and the landing vehicles, which are currently being developed by Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX.
The SLS and Orion are quite far along in development, and, of course, are crucial elements. The Gateway, though not planned to be fully operational by the 2024 landing target date, will be partially completed and is also likely the component most crucial to the long-term viability of a human presence on the Moon.
The Gateway will provide a point for spacecraft to dock and refuel and resupply; it will allow landers to be re-used, and crewed vehicles refueled and resupplied for longer missions, including those to Mars. If there’s any real game-changing element to all this, I think it has to be the role of The Gateway.
NASA recently delayed a decision on who will build the lunar landers, which has made senators in states where those companies operate pretty antsy. The delay is likely to give the Biden administration more time to decide on its direction for Artemis, Ars Technica reports.
The main take away here is: We’re going back to the freakin’ moon baby, just...maybe not in 2024.