Almost two years a few years ago Vice President Mike Pence delivered the most important speech on space policy of its mandate. At a National Space Council meeting at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, Pence outlined the Trump administration’s plans to land humans on the moon by 2024.
“We need to redouble our efforts here in Huntsville and throughout this program,” Pence said, speaking to the engineers responsible for the development of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. “We need to accelerate the SLS program to achieve this goal. But know this: The President has asked NASA and Administrator Jim Bridenstine to achieve this goal by any means necessary.”
At the time, Marshall’s NASA engineers told Pence they were confident the SLS rocket would make its first flight in 2020, setting a timeline to allow astronauts to return to the moon by 2024. rocket sole or entrepreneur. The moon was the goal – not the way to reach it.
“If our current contractors can’t achieve this, we’ll find the ones who will,” Pence said in Huntsville. “If American industry can provide essential commercial services without government development, then we will buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets will do it. will be. “
Two years have passed since. The vice president’s ambitious goal for 2024 of landing on the moon has become out of reach. Pence has left office. And of course, the SLS rocket didn’t launch in 2020. Now it’s pretty much certain that it won’t launch until 2022. So what happens next?
What to do with the space launch system rocket is one of the biggest space policy questions facing the Biden administration – which has yet to name its key leaders – in the months to come. It is true that the great rocket that NASA spent a decade and nearly $ 20 billion developing is getting closer to launch. However, there is no guarantee when the SLS will be ready.
From Pence’s speech, it is clear that he spent time learning about NASA’s issues, was frustrated, and sought to resolve them. This rocket was originally scheduled for launch in 2016 and he was fed up with the delays. The nation, Pence thought, could do better. As a senior astronaut who was not a fan of the Trump administration told Ars, “He’s the first vice president to give an sh – on space in 20 years.
However, the reality is that without extraordinary effort, the White House cannot put together a program like the SLS rocket, which has broad support in Congress and supports jobs across the country. And the Trump administration never did.
When things came to fruition, the White House accompanied NASA, Congress, and big contractors like Boeing to build the SLS rocket, spending around $ 2.5 billion annually to maintain it. And while the SLS didn’t launch in 2020, it hit a test bed in Mississippi in preparation for a big static fire test earlier this month. The goal was to ignite the rocket’s four main engines for four to eight minutes, showing that it was ready for launch. Unfortunately, the center stage of the rocket only fired 67.2 seconds, and now NASA is considering if he needs to re-test the rocket before sending it to its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After the Jan. 16 test and after a press conference to discuss his preliminary results, Ars spoke with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He acknowledged that things had not gone as planned, but said the SLS program was making progress. “We are close,” he said. “We are so close.”
When Pence presented the lunar plan in 2019, it was up to Bridenstine to prepare the plan to bring humans to the lunar surface in five years. Within days of Pence’s speech, Bridenstine appeared to be doing just that. He appeared before Congress and said NASA was exploring the possibility of using SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket – already in flight – to get the job done. But very soon influential members of Congress told him to take down. Despite Pence’s talk about finding other entrepreneurs, the House and Senate did not have one. For most of the remainder of his tenure, Bridenstine only spoke of SLS launching humans to the moon. The “commercial rocket” insurgency was over.