NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says the U.S. is within 10 years of having a continuous manned presence on the moon, which will lay the groundwork for expanding space exploration to Mars.
“Right now we’re building a space station, we call it ‘Gateway,’ that’s going to be in orbit around the moon — think of it as a reusable command module where we can have human presence in orbit around the moon. From there we want reusable landers that go back and forth to the surface of the moon,” Bridenstine told Hill.TV’s Jamal Simmons and Buck Sexton on “Rising.”
“We think we can achieve this in about 10 years, the idea being prove the capability, retire the risk, prove the human physiology and then go on to Mars,” he continued.
Bridenstine joined “Rising” to detail NASA’s plans to partner with nine U.S. companies to travel to the moon, a key component of NASA’s plan to extend human space exploration.
The administrator said he hopes to drive innovation by creating a commercial marketplace called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLIPS).
Through the CLIPS program, Bridenstine hopes to develop technology that will eventually establish a continuous Moon presence.
“At the end of the day, what we’re doing is we’re going to buy services where we’re going to have multiple companies competing on cost and innovation to deliver payloads to the surface of the moon — right now we’re just talking about scientific instruments, not large payloads, but building the capability that then feeds forward to larger landers that would include humans,” he said.
The move is part of President Trump’s Space Policy Directive, which calls for revisiting Moon exploration.
Bridenstine emphasized the importance of Trump’s directive, saying building a sustainable and continued presence on the Moon represents a “proving ground” for further space exploration.
Unlike Mars, he said the Earth and Moon are always on the same side of the sun. Mars on the other hand is on the same side as Earth only once every 26 months, meaning that astronauts will have to be on Mars for two years before being able to complete their mission and return home.
“The moon represents a proving ground, it’s the way we can reduce risk, we can prove technology, we can prove human physiology, we can develop the capabilities to utilize the resources of the moon to survive on the surface of the moon and then we take all of those capabilities and we replicate them at Mars,” he said.
The announcement comes days after NASA’s InSight Mars landed on Mars. It took almost seven months for the lander to touch down on the red planet, marking the start of a two-year mission.
Bridenstine said the landing represented the eighth time in human history that anyone has made a soft landing on the surface of Mars with the capability of continuing on.
“This week we landed on the surface of Mars. It’s the eighth time in the history of humanity that anyone has landed on the surface of Mars softly with a mission that’s capable of carrying forward,” he said.
— Tess Bonn