NASA’s chief Jim Bridenstine thinks “we need to get to more parts of the moon than we have ever gotten to ever before”. Speaking to Space.com recently, Bridenstine detailed his priority for the space agency, going forward.
When you look back at history, look back at the end of the Apollo program...there was a period of time there after Apollo and before the space shuttles when we had a gap of human spaceflight capability. And then you go forward and look at the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, and now we’re getting to the point where we’re ready to fly commercial crew. We’ve got a gap of about eight years in our ability to fly crew into space. When we think about the [end of the] International Space Station, we want to make sure that a gap doesn’t materialise.Jim Bridenstine
Bridenstine said he believed NASA’s top priority should be to ensure than another such gap never occurred again, which is why according to him it was important to start the conversation now. “We wants lots of humans in space”, he said.
To the Moon and Back
Bridenstine said NASA missed a crucial opportunity to pursue the moon, an opportunity highlighted in fact by Indians. He talked about how the US first landed on the moon in 1969, but it was only 40 years later, in 2009 that they discovered water ice on its surface. That too, their experiment followed India’s experiment proving the same in 2008.
So the question is – during those 40 years, we missed that. What else have we missed?Jim Bridenstine to Space.com
He added that he planned to remedy this as NASA’s administrator. “We need to get to more parts of the moon than we have gotten to ever before”, he said before adding that mastering the science of the moon is the first step to reaching farther out in the solar system.
“I think a lot of people miss the fact that the moon represents an amazing proving ground for all of the technologies and the human-performance capabilities that are necessary to survive on another planet and the ability to develop in-situ utilisation abilities,” Bridenstine said.
To “open up the moon” – and other planets – Bridenstine said he wants to build “Gateways” or small, space-station-like platforms that serve as outposts for further points.
The first Gateway is going to be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It is not optimum for getting to the surface of the moon, but it enables with a very low propulsion capability...to stay in that orbit for a very, very long period of time. And it enables us, the [USA], to invest in critical infrastructure from whence our commercial partners can go back and forth from Earth to lunar orbit, from which our commercial partners can build their own landers to get to the surface of the moon.Jim Bridenstine
The goal is to enable everybody, especially countries with historically small space budgets, he said. Through such technology, he said he wanted to enable people to have more access to the lunar surface and orbit than ever before. To this end, he said he wanted to put the interfaces on Gateway – from power to docking – on the internet.
But it’s not another International Space Station, which is permanently manned. The Gateway is built to support humans for 30- to 60-day missions.
He said plans for a second Gateway are already underway, with the goal of taking astronauts to the moon, perhaps by 2030.
The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport...enables us to get to Mars. What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.Jim Bridenstine to Space.com