July 18, 2019

Is 2024 Realistic for Getting Back to the Moon?

“Five decades after sending humans to the Moon, NASA is tasked with repeating the feat—and doing it by 2024, the ambitious deadline set by U.S. President Donald Trump’s team. But it is unclear how the space agency will surmount some formidable technical, political and financial challenges to pull off a lunar landing in just four and a half years.

“If the pieces come together in the right way they can pull it off,” says Ryan Watkins, a lunar scientist with the Planetary Science Institute who is based in St Louis, Missouri. “But they have to come together.”

NASA’s leaders have yet to make key decisions about how the Moon effort, called Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister, will proceed. The agency does not have a rocket ready to fly humans into deep space, and it has not developed a lunar lander since the Apollo programme ended in 1972. Then there is Congress, which controls NASA’s budget and seems increasingly uninterested in paying for the Moon mission.

Even as NASA scrambles to meet its ambitious goal, China is making steady progress towards landing astronauts on the Moon by the mid-2030s. The country has launched a series of uncrewed lunar missions over the past decade, and in January its Chang’e-4 probe became the first spacecraft from any nation to land on the Moon’s far side. Chinese officials say that four more robotic missions will follow, starting with Chang’e-5, which could launch as early as December and bring back Moon rock and soil. Lunar researchers expect that these missions will carry out scientific experiments and lay the groundwork for a future Moon base.”

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