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Can NASA really put astronauts on the Moon in 2024?

By Mike Wall
March 28, 2019, 2:31:43 PM EDT

NASA can probably meet the Trump administration's aggressive moon-landing timeline, experts say — but it won't be easy.

On Tuesday (March 26), Vice President Mike Pence instructed NASA to put astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024, four years earlier than previously planned. Such urgency is required to safeguard the country's leadership and dominance in space, Pence said.

"The United States must remain first in space in this century as in the last, not just to propel our economy and secure our nation, but above all, because the rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay," the vice president said during the fifth meeting of the National Space Council, which he chairs.


Artist's illustration of the Gateway, the moon-orbiting space station that aims to begin building in 2022. (Image: © NASA)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine voiced confidencethat the 2024 goal is achievable. So did aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, the crew capsule that NASA astronauts will ride toward the moon and other deep-space destinations.

For example, Lockheed representatives said the company could build a crewed lunar lander relatively quickly, by leveraging technologies developed for Orion. This lander could touch down by 2024, provided it departs from an "early version" of the Gateway, the moon-orbiting space station that NASA plans to start building in 2022 as a fulcrum for landing operations.

"This approach delivers an earlier landing capability featuring reusable technology that also lays a foundation for a future expanded, sustainable human presence at the moon," Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin Space, said in an emailed statement. "This is an aggressive but achievable schedule and could be the catalyst to help jump-start a new era of human exploration of the moon, Mars and beyond."

And experts who don't have any skin in the game agreed that 2024 is doable.

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