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US faces tight timeline for 2024 moon landing, NASA chief tells Senate

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NASA needs to have a new  lunar lander and giant rocket ready by next year in order to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, the space agency’s chief Jim Bridenstine told Congress Wednesday (Sept. 23). 

In a Senate appropriations committee hearing, Bridenstine said NASA aims to send an uncrewed mission, called Artemis 1, around the moon in November 2021 to prepare for the first orbital mission with astronauts two years later, Artemis 2. The Artemis 3 mission would follow, sending astronauts to the south pole of the moon in 2024. 

Bridenstine said he is worried about the effects on the Artemis program if any of the missions are delayed which could happen for technical or funding reasons. 

“If that Artemis [1] mission pushes too far from 2021, if it starts to encroach on Artemis 2 in 2023, it creates a crescendo where if one [mission] starts getting pushed, the others start getting pushed,” Bridenstine said in the livestreamed broadcast.

Currently, though, everything is on track for a 2024 deadline, Bridenstine added. A design for one or two landers will be finalized in February 2021 (it is currently being competed between three private groups) and Artemis 1 is expected to launch that November. A lengthy “green run” trail for the Space Launch System megarocket,which was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is underway, keeping the booster on track for its debut launch in November 2021. 

Bridenstine said everyone needs to stick as closely to NASA’s timeline as possible to eliminate programmatic and cost risk from Artemis’ first landing stretching on past 2024. Previous bipartisan agreements, however, suggested a NASA moon landing could be approved as late as 2028 — a possibility that was raised again by the U.S. House of Representatives in January.

The Trump administration’s request is