WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump reinvigorated enthusiasm for NASA after announcing a plan to put Americans back on the moon by 2024. Now, that ambitious goal is under the microscope.
- Development of Space Launch System, Orion behind schedule
- NASA still waiting on additional funding from Congress
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Lawmakers and even NASA officials have recently expressed skepticism that the agency will be able to meet that deadline. The development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the new crew capsule Orion are way behind schedule and over budget. The agency is also still waiting on additional funding from Congress.
“How confident are you that we will have boots on the moon by 2024,” Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida 8th District) asked Kenneth Bowersox, NASA’s acting associate administrator for human exploration and operations during a congressional hearing last week.
“I wouldn’t bet my oldest child’s upcoming birthday present or anything like that,” Bowersox told the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics last Wednesday.
The agency’s replacement for the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket, the SLS, has faced multiple setbacks and the cost has been ballooned to more than $8 billion, 29 percent more than the price originally quoted.
“I essentially was asking why it is so hard and expensive to get back to the moon, where we were 50 years ago, and I think we should in our role as Congress, ask those tough questions,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Florida 6th District) in an interview with Spectrum News.
The delays and unknowns that come with space exploration is something Posey understands firsthand after working on the Apollo program as a rocket inspector.
“When you go through these things, sometimes when you solve one problem, you find out there’s another problem that’s unforeseeable,” Posey explained.
The agency has been scrambling to develop a strategy ever since March, when the Trump Administration ordered NASA to put Americans back on the moon four years earlier than originally planned.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you arbitrarily we’re going to make it. We have to have a lot of things come together to make it happen,” Bowersox told the committee last week.
Posey believes bringing NASA officials to Capitol Hill more regularly could help in improving transparency.
“Every hearing we have with NASA makes them more accountable number 1 and it helps Congress be better informed number 2,” Posey said.
NASA’s current budget is $21.5 billion and the Trump Administration is seeking an additional $1.6 billion to award a contract to a private company to design and build the lander that ultimately will take humans to the surface of the moon.
“Congress has a role. I am less optimistic frankly right now, but I think we can get there if we can figure out how to work together,” Waltz said.
The short-term budget agreement the House just passed to keep the government funded until November 21 did not include the additional $1.6 billion for the Artemis program, but NASA officials don’t believe that delay in funding will significantly impact the project.