Tuesday February 18, 2020
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Pence Calls for Landing US Astronauts on Lunar South Pole Within 5 Years

“It's time to redouble our effort,” he said. “It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace"

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astronauts, station batteries
Running ahead the whole time, the astronauts even squeezed in some extra chores before their 6 {-hour spacewalk ended. VOA

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday called for landing astronauts on the moon within five years, an accelerated pace that would aim to put Americans on the lunar south pole.

Pence said NASA needs to achieve that goal “by any means necessary.” Speaking at a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, he said NASA rockets and lunar landers will be replaced by private craft, if required.

“It’s time to redouble our effort,” he said. “It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace.”

Now, the earliest possible landing on the moon by NASA isn’t until 2028, Pence said. He acknowledged talent — and money — will be necessary to pull it off earlier.

US, astronauts
Pence warned that if NASA can’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organization, not the mission.” Pixabay

Announcement comes with warning

Pence warned that if NASA can’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organization, not the mission.” The space agency must transform into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization, and must adopt an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine assured Pence that NASA will do everything possible to meet the deadline. Some outside experts were skeptical of the new timeline.

“I will be astonished if this happens,” said Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, noting that a lunar lander still needs to be designed, built and tested.

“That is a hard challenge on a five year time scale even without political budget infighting,” he wrote in an email.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. Since Apollo astronauts last walked on the moon in 1972, no country has made a serious attempt to send humans back to the lunar surface.

astronauts, NASA
The vice president instructed NASA to aim to land on the moon’s south pole, where considerable amounts of ice could be used for drinking and making rocket fuel. VOA

Obama eyed Mars

For decades, NASA has flip-flopped between the moon and Mars, a victim of changing presidential administrations. More recently, President Barack Obama targeted Mars as astronauts’ next big destination, while President Donald Trump has favored the moon.

In order to get astronauts on the moon by 2024, Bridenstine said the space agency’s new megarocket will be needed, but its development and pace will need to be faster. Two weeks ago, he said NASA was considering using private rockets instead to launch its new Orion capsule around the moon without a crew on a test flight next year.

But on Tuesday, he expressed confidence that the SLS, or Space Launch System, would be ready for the job. He also stressed the need for an outpost with astronauts near the moon to serve as a stepping-off point for lunar landings.

First time took 8 years

Pence leads the National Space Council. The advisory group held its fifth meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, right next door to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Saturn V moon rockets were developed decades ago and where the Boeing-built SLS is now managed. This longtime rocket know-how is why Huntsville is nicknamed Rocket City.

It took just eight years for NASA to accomplish everything to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969. It was unacceptable, Pence said, that SLS delays and cost overruns point to a 2028 target date — nearly two decades after the SLS program began.

The vice president instructed NASA to aim to land on the moon’s south pole, where considerable amounts of ice could be used for drinking and making rocket fuel.

“The exploration of the heavens in this still new century will go forward with or without the United States. But Americans don’t do second place. Americans lead, and so we will,” Pence said to cheers and applause.

Astronauts, NASA
NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, right, and Barry Wilmore work inside the International Space Station on October 1, 2014.
It took just eight years for NASA to accomplish everything to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969. VOA

Planetary scientist Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said 2024 is feasible provided the accelerated effort is funded properly and commercial space systems are fully embraced.

“The moon is a truly outstanding target, both for science and for getting our exploration legs back before we set out to further destinations like Mars,” Stern wrote in an email.

Not enough time?

But former NASA official Scott Hubbard said five years seems “awfully short to me,” given the lack of national security incentives like those that existed during Apollo and the Cold War race to beat the Soviets to the moon.

Hubbard pointed out that both Bush administrations proposed similar far-reaching exploration efforts. “Those didn’t go anywhere and collapsed of their own significant financial weight,” he noted in an email.

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The University of Colorado at Boulder’s Bobby Braun said he’d like to review the budget and details for implementation “as those details matter.” He previously served as NASA’s chief technologist.

“The United States aerospace community is certainly capable of achieving this goal if provided with stability of purpose and the resources to do so,” Braun wrote in an email. (VOA)

Next Story

NASA Plans To Hire More Astronauts For Space Projects

Candidates must also have at least two years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft, NASA

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NASA
Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space. Pixabay

As NASA prepares to land the first woman and the next man on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024 under its Artemis programme and then send humans to Mars, the US space agency wants to hire more astronauts.

NASA will accept applications March 2-31 for the next class of Artemis Generation astronauts, the agency said on Tuesday.

Since the 1960s, NASA has selected 350 people to train as astronaut candidates for its increasingly challenging missions to explore space.

With 48 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, more will be needed to crew spacecraft bound for multiple destinations and propel exploration forward as part of Artemis missions and beyond.

“We’re celebrating our 20th year of continuous presence aboard the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit this year, and we’re on the verge of sending the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“For the handful of highly talented women and men we will hire to join our diverse astronaut corps, it’s an incredible time in human spaceflight to be an astronaut. We’re asking all eligible Americans if they have what it to takes to apply beginning March 2,” Bridenstine said.

Astronaut, Space Shuttle, Discovery, Space, Universe
As NASA prepares to land the first woman and the next man on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024 under its Artemis programme and then send humans to Mars, the US space agency wants to hire more astronauts. Pixabay

The basic requirements to apply include United States citizenship and a master’s degree in a STEM field, including engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics, from an accredited institution.

The requirement for the master’s degree can also be met by two years of work toward a Ph.D. programme in a related science, technology, engineering or math field; a completed doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine degree; completion (or current enrolment that will result in completion by June 2021) of a nationally recognised test pilot school programme.

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Candidates must also have at least two years of related, progressively responsible professional experience, or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft, NASA said. (IANS)