from the "De-la-Terre-à-la-Lune" dept.
NASA officials released a nearly five-year, $28 billion plan Monday to return astronauts to the surface of the moon before the end of 2024, but the agency's administrator said the "aggressive" timeline set by the Trump administration last year hinges on Congress approving $3.2 billion in the next few months to kick-start development of new human-rated lunar landers.
The plan unveiled Monday contained few new details not previously disclosed by NASA. It assumes crews will launch on NASA's Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, fly to the moon's vicinity on an Orion capsule, then transfer into a commercially-developed lunar lander to ferry the astronauts to and from the lunar surface.
NASA released a new overview document [(pdf)] Monday describing the agency's approach to landing astronauts on the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The program, named Artemis, encompasses the SLS, Orion, Human Landing Systems, and the Gateway, a human-tended platform in lunar orbit that will eventually serve as a staging point for missions to the moon.
NASA has asked the US aerospace industry how it would go about "maximizing the long-term efficiency and sustainability" of the Space Launch System rocket and its associated ground systems.
[...] In its request NASA says it would like to fly the SLS rocket for "30 years or more" as a national capability. Moreover, the agency wants the rocket to become a "sustainable and affordable system for moving humans and large cargo payloads to cislunar and deep-space destinations."
[...] Among the rocket's chief architects was then-Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who steered billions of dollars to Kennedy Space Center in his home state for upgraded ground systems equipment to support the rocket. Back in 2011, he proudly said the rocket would be delivered on time and on budget.
"This rocket is coming in at the cost of... not only what we estimated in the NASA Authorization act, but less," Nelson said at the time. "The cost of the rocket over a five- to six-year period in the NASA authorization bill was to be no more than $11.5 billion. This costs $10 billion for the rocket." Later, he went further, saying, "If we can't do a rocket for $11.5 billion, we ought to close up shop."
After more than 10 years, and more than $30 billion spent on the rocket and its ground systems, NASA has not closed up shop. Rather, Nelson has ascended to become the space agency's administrator.
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