Back To The Moon, To Mars, and Beyond!
Nearly five decades after man first walked on the moon, the goal is to get there once again, and beyond, according to the Acting Administrator of NASA, Robert Lightfoot.
NASA’s 2019 Budget
Lightfoot presented NASA’s goals while breaking down the 2019 budget this week. I was chosen to be there to hear it as part of a NASA Social event. NASA orchestrates events to bring in people, like myself, who have social media followings, so that we can then share with our followers life beyond the gates at NASA. We get to see behind-the-scenes at NASA facilities and speak with scientists, engineers, astronauts and managers. As a gal who was born the year we walked on the moon, I’m beyond giddy to be able to share the NASA scoop with you. (If you want to be considered for a future event, check out this link: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/index.html )
What we heard at this particular event: the budget plan. And the 2019 budget will refocus the agency on exploration, with the goal of getting astronauts back on the moon. Half of the $19.9 billion (yes, b, billion) USD budget is dedicated to an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration, which leads to humans to the moon for long-term exploration. This time, though, NASA will be working with commercial and international partners to make it happen.
So, remember the launch of the Tesla on the Falcon Heavy recently? Expect to see much more of that kind of thing in the future.
NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS, megarocket and the Orion deep space crew ship are key parts of this plan. The budget has money set aside for both of those, with an unpiloted test flight scheduled first, followed by a second mission with astronauts orbiting the moon by 2023.
There are plans for a Lunar Orbital Platform in orbit around the moon. The goal is for it to be a gateway of sorts, and act as a test bed for more technologies needed for space exploration. There are also plans for small lunar landers, followed by larger landers eventually. Those will help NASA further explore the moon and its resources.
Why Does It Matter?
Well, these are key steps in making human missions to Mars possible, according to Lightfoot. Some funds are even earmarked to study possible robotic missions to return soil and rock samples from the planet.
NASA intends to continue its search to see what other options are out there in space for other life, and will keep working on the Europa Clipper, a mission to study Jupiter’s icy moon and subsurface ocean.
What else is in the 2019 budget? More money ($2.1 billion USD) for space transportation, including support for commercial space station cargo missions by SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and, eventually, Sierra Nevada. SpaceX and Boeing are building new commercial crew ships to send astronauts to and from the space station.
Missing from the new budget: Money for the International Space Station. By 2025, US government support for the ISS will be ended, based on this budget, and so will plans for a high-priority space telescope known as WFIRST.
It’s clear the new focus is on commercial activity, with the private sector footing the bill.
Many question whether killing funding for the ISS makes sense, especially as the US looks to bond more with international partners.
Another choice being criticized: the elimination of NASA’s education office.
The agency plans to still support other education activities, including fellowships. The Science Activation Program within the Science Mission Directorate will still be funded, but that’s not part of the Office of Education.
As for the ISS, certain components may be put to use on an outpost in low-Earth orbit. NASA would also use whatever is available to carry out research needed before eventual flights to Mars and other missions.