At a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, Pence said that the U.S. aimed to put Americans on the lunar south pole with or without NASA, noting that private launch companies would be used if the space agency could not deliver, saying “we need to change the organization, not the mission."
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstien said that his agency would be up for the challenge.
“I assured the Vice President that we, the people of NASA, are up to the challenge," said Bridenstien. “We will take action in the days and weeks ahead to accomplish these goals. We have laid out a clear plan for NASA’s exploration campaign that cuts across three strategic areas: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars and deeper into space."
He continued, “I have already directed a new alignment within NASA to ensure we effectively support this effort, which includes establishing a new mission directorate to focus on the formulation and execution of exploration development activities. We are calling it the Moon to Mars Mission Directorate."
While both Pence and Bridenstien expressed optimism in the mission, it may prove economically difficult to accomplish. NASA has been largely relying on Russia and private launch vehicles to conduct its business, and does not have a modern, tested lunar lander ready to deploy.
“I will be astonished if this happens,” Jonathan McDowell said to Time magazine. McDowell works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That is a hard challenge on a five year time scale even without political budget infighting.”
NASA's proposed budget for FY2020 does not have an increase to support the development of a "megarocket" to support a lunar mission. In recent weeks, Bridenstien said the agency may use a private rocket to launch a test capsule around the moon in a planned flight next year.
In the current pace of development, the United States likely can't launch a manned lunar mission until 2028.
“It’s time to redouble our effort,” said Pence. “It can happen, but it will not happen unless we increase the pace.”
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