Fly Me to the Moon. That's the mantra of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who recently told The Hill TV that the agency hopes to establish a continuous manned presence on the moon within a decade. The plan is to build a space station to orbit the moon and use landers to take humans back and forth to the lunar surface. Bridenstine says the ultimate goal is to use the moon as a testing ground for eventual exploration of Mars.
Bridenstine's bold plans sound a bit optimistic to some ears. "Do I think it's possible? Coin toss," says Keith Cowing with NASA Watch. "We've got one or two presidential elections in that time frame, a bunch of Congressional elections, probably an economic downturn...so I don't know."
Aside from the uncertainty of politics, the economy and world affairs, Cowing believes the biggest obstacle to NASA's lunar dreams is likely to be funding. "You have this chronic inability of Congress and the White House to give the agency sufficient funds to do what it has been chartered to do, that is the real issue," he says. "You're going to ask NASA to plan a 10-12 year program with a dozen rocket launches that cost a couple billion dollars apiece, with a budget that is barely creeping over inflation."
NASA is already trying to get around that issue by partnering with private sector companies on rockets and technology. Bridenstine has even floated the idea of corporate branding for NASA equipment and astronauts as another fundraising tool. That type of outside-the-box approach may be necessary if the agency is going to make it back to the moon, much less Mars. "What will be the final push for NASA to say maybe we need to stop and say there is a better way to do this in the 21st Century," says Cowing. "We may want to be inspired by Apollo, but we don't want to repeat Apollo."