Mar 27, 2019 10:55 AM EDT
The Trump Administration, via a press conference held by Vice President Mike Pence, has given NASA an ultimatum; either put American astronauts on the Moon by 2024 or be replaced by private industry. As the Trump Administration is already known for setting lofty goals, the message VP Pence sent in a press conference on Tuesday seems as if the current presidential administration is not only challenging NASA, but blatantly threatening the government-funded space agency.
"We're not committed to one contractor. If our current contractors can't meet this objective, then we'll find ones that will. If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development, then we'll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be," Pence said.
NASA was quick to respond with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine assuring Pence that NASA would work hard to meet the deadline, expressing confidence that the SLS, or Space Launch System, would be ready for the job. However, not everyone is optimistic. Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said he would be "astonished" if it's pulled off, noting that a lunar lander still needs to be designed, built and tested.
The National Space Council, led by Pence, held its fifth meeting at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, right next door to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, where the Boeing-built SLS is now managed. During the meeting, it was discussed that a more feasible date could possibly be 2028, but VP Pence said it was unacceptable that SLS delays and cost overruns point to a 2028 target date-nearly two decades after the SLS program began. By contrast, it took NASA only eight years to put astronauts on the moon in July 1969.
Vice President Pence ended his press conference with the confidence, patriotism, and bravado that has come to be expected from the Trump Administration by stating that, "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,"
Recently, Russia and China are becoming active in Space ventures. The Russians have already conduct plans and taking necessary steps for space flight that will conduct deep space exploration and China who recently launched its first mission to build its own orbital space station.
Needless to say, commercial tycoons like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are eager to fill NASA's shoes, or shall we say space boots, if the space agency does not comply within the next five years. It is safe to say Mr. Musk and Sir Branson's ears perked up when Pence stated, "... commercial rockets it will be."
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