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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 Explore Technology To Build Future Homes Made of Fungi For Moon, Mars

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat

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NASA
Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could "grow" habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life - specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia. Pixabay

Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well.

Creating a livable home for future astronauts means doing more than growing a roof to go over their heads. Astronauts will need to have all their basic needs met, just like on Earth, and face the additional challenges of living in a harsh environment on a distant world, the US space agency said in a statement.

Keeping that in mind, the myco-architecture project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California is prototyping technologies that could “grow” habitats on the Moon, Mars and beyond out of life – specifically, fungi and the unseen underground threads that make up the main part of the fungus, known as mycelia.

“Right now, traditional habitat designs for Mars are like a turtle – carrying our homes with us on our backs – a reliable plan, but with huge energy costs,” said Lynn Rothschild, the principal investigator on the early-stage project.

“Instead, we can harness mycelia (vegetative part of a fungus) to grow these habitats ourselves when we get there”. Ultimately, the project envisions a future where human explorers can bring a compact habitat built out of a lightweight material with dormant fungi that will last on long journeys to places like Mars.

Upon arrival, by unfolding that basic structure and simply adding water, the fungi will be able to grow around that framework into a fully functional human habitat – all while being safely contained within the habitat to avoid contaminating the Martian environment.

Mycelia are tiny threads that build complex structures with extreme precision, networking out into larger structures like mushrooms.
With the right conditions, they can be coaxed into making new structures – ranging from a material similar to leather to the building blocks for a Mars habitat.

NASA
Instead of habitats made of metal and glass, NASA is exploring technologies that could grow structures out of fungi to become our future homes in the stars, and perhaps lead to more sustainable ways of living on Earth as well. Pixabay

That last layer of mycelia is what organically grows into a sturdy home, first activated to grow in a contained environment and then baked to kill the lifeforms – providing structural integrity and ensuring no life contaminates Mars and any microbial life that’s already there. Even if some mycelia somehow escaped, they will be genetically altered to be incapable of surviving outside the habitat, said NASA.

Mycelia could also be used for water filtration and biomining systems that can extract minerals from wastewater – another project active in Rothschild’s lab – as well as bioluminescent lighting, humidity regulation and even self-generating habitats capable of healing themselves. And with about 40% of carbon emissions on Earth coming from construction, there’s an ever-increasing need for sustainable and affordable housing here as well.

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The harsh environments of the Moon and Mars will require new ways of living – growing homes instead of building them, mining minerals from sewage instead of rock. “But by turning to the elegant systems of our own natural world, we can design solutions that are green and sustainable. Whether on distant worlds or our own ever-changing Earth, fungi could be what brings us boldly into the future,” said NASA. (IANS)