During a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump Administration is committed to landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024.
Pence essentially moved up the deadline by four years from 2028. He also talked about establishing a permanent base on the lunar surface before going on to send astronauts to Mars.
Pence said that if NASA’s current contractors can’t achieve that goal, they will use commercial providers. That’s essentially a shot across the bow of Boeing, which is the primary contractor for the Space Launch System (SLS).
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine just said that he is confident the space agency can launch SLS with an Orion capsule to go around the moon by the end of 2020.
NASA has been reevaluating the planned launch date of June 2020. Published reports say that Boeing had recently told Bridenstine and other NASA officials that the launch date could slip until November 2021.
NASA subsequently started a review to determine whether the Orion spacecraft and a booster stage could be launched on separate commercial boosters. One the vehicles were docked in Earth orbit, Orion would fly around the moon before returning to an ocean splashdown.
There have not been a lot of details on precisely how NASA plans to achieve this goal within five years. I guess we’ll find out in the days and weeks ahead.