May 15, 2019 08:47 AM EDT
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepherd, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke Jr., Jack Schmitt, and Gene Cernan are the only 12 astronauts to have ever touched the Moon. But there's one more thing that they all have in common; they are all men. Apollo 11's moon landing was said to be "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", but isn't it about time a woman takes that small step? NASA seems to think so.
At the beginning of the week NASA announced a fast-tracked and rather aspiring plan to return to the Moon by 2024. The program itself is paying its respects to gender equality: it's named for the Greek goddess and twin sister of Apollo, Artemis. And, to the delight of many, there will be a seat on the 2024 lunar mission specially reserved for a woman.
"Fifty years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and first woman to the Moon," said Bridenstine during a press call, according to CNN. Symbolic or no, it will be the first time that a woman has ever touched the surface of the Moon.
However, some remain skeptical that the mission will even transpire. While certainly ambitious, the timeline edges on unlikely, especially when you consider that Congress has yet to sign off on President Trump's upgraded budget, which includes an additional 1.6 billion US dollars for the agency this year, and likely billions of dollars every year after. Besides necessary funding, the mission will also require the most powerful rocket ever designed, a new launch system, a renewed method to lunar landing systems, a suspended "gateway" station between Earth and the Moon that does not exist at the present, and brand new lunar space suits for everyone. Hopefully, in all appropriate sizes.
It seems like the success of this mission could be equated to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but the chief of NASA thinks the short timeline works in their favor. Today, in a town hall addressing NASA employees, he argued that to delay the goal, set out by Vice President Mike Pence in March, is actually a riskier alternative.
"Basically, the shorter the program is, the less time it takes, the less political risk we endure. In other words, we can accomplish the end state," he argued. If it all works out, America will have an outpost on the way to Mars, quietly orbiting in the gravity between Earth and its Moon. "Humans are the most fragile element of this entire endeavor and yet we go for humanity," a NASA video claims.
While the mission now has a name, the trick will be to actually get it off the ground, on time.
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