NASA to reveal more details on first lunar mission in decades

NASA has scheduled a live webcast on Feb. 5 to reveal the spacecraft that will send humans back to the moon for the first time since the Apollo missions 40 years ago.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and NASA associate administrator for the human exploration and operations mission director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington Heather Wilson on Friday both hosted a call with reporters to discuss new details about the mission, which NASA said will make a significant step toward returning astronauts to the moon.

The 2019 human exploration and operations plan assigns several priorities, including a lunar mission in 2022 for astronauts to perform additional experiments. This is expected to be the second in a series of landings to return Americans to the moon.

“It’s going to be a very exciting day,” Wilson said. “It’s something we’ve been waiting a long time for. It’s the single most significant step we’re going to take in human spaceflight since the Apollo missions, and that’s a pretty remarkable fact.”

That webcast starts at 10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Feb. 5, with NASA officials giving a brief technical overview of the mission. It will be streamed live on NASA TV.

That mission and the upcoming launch of Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket that’s part of NASA’s multi-layered plan to put people back on the moon, are part of a broader agenda called Journey to Mars.

“Humans can go to the moon in a single orbit and visit the lunar surface, explore on a scale of a city, and then grow with that scale,” Wilson said. “The science that’s learned there can be used for future missions. It’s the jumping-off point for humans to go to Mars.”

Such a mission is likely to happen sooner rather than later. The budget passed this year by Congress gave NASA a $15.1 billion operating budget, marking the first increase since 2010. NASA is expected to get more than enough funding in the next few years to begin preparation.

The spacecraft NASA selected, a return to lunar surface mission called Project Exploration-C, will make the trip to the moon, drop off a payload, then activate a lightaboost motor and start the descent to the lunar surface.

NASA has not yet said how the destination of the mission will be determined, but the 2020 lunar mission, as identified in this draft budget, will target “topographic regions,” with specific references to specific sections of the moon such as Mare Terra.

The new spacecraft was selected based on other awards NASA has awarded in recent years to companies involved in the crew transportation to space. The company chosen to design, build and test the spacecraft is Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. of Denver. The firm was the top bidder.

The company’s project director for Project Exploration-C said the company will need an engineering readiness review in about a month’s time to start developing the mission and its subsystems. It will likely be awarded a one-year launch services contract or a multi-year contract as part of the landing mission.

This article was written by Pervaiz Shallwani, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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