Apr 12, 2019 07:51 AM EDT
Only weeks after Vice President Mike Pence said that NASA must get back to the moon "or else", space contractor Lockheed Martin announced they will help. The company recently revealed designs for a human lunar lander concept that can take astronauts to and from the lunar surface. Also stating that they can make it happen within the next five years-albeit, resources are made available.
The design for the lander consists of two parts; a lander portion, that can travel down to the ground, and an ascent vehicle that can lift astronauts off the Moon's surface. The concept is rather simple; astronauts would travel to NASA's Gateway, a new space station that NASA wants to build around the Moon. Then from there, the astronauts would use the lunar lander to go down to the surface of the moon, with the ascension vehicle bringing them back to Gateway.
Lockheed Martin has noted that the timeline to finish this lander is somewhat aggressive. "We're going to need resources to make this happen and we're going to have to work differently than we have before," Lisa Callahan, vice president of programs and general manager for Lockheed Martin, stated. "But I think it really is feasible, and we're super excited about it."
One major time-saving element of this design concept is that it will not be built from scratch. Lockheed Martin plans to borrow designs from Orion, a crew capsule that the contractor has been working on for the past years and is designed to send astronauts into deep space and eventually dock with the Gateway. "That's our big kind of selling point: build from what you already have," said Mike Hawes, vice president, and Orion project manager at Lockheed Martin. "Limit the number of new elements."
However, Lockheed's target of five years is solely dependent on NASA's completion of Gateway, which was originally scheduled sometime after 2028. But now that the deadline has moved significantly, sacrifices to the Gateway design will have to be made.
"The first phase is speed," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a speech at the Space Symposium. "We want to get those boots on the Moon as soon as possible. We don't want to take away anything from getting those boots on the Moon. Anything that is a distraction for making that happen, we're getting rid of."
As for now, NASA has not confirmed any decisions on exactly which companies will design and manufacture the first human lunar landers and the agency still needs to devise a financial plan for the Moon return, which should be revealed sometime next week.
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