Bridenstine and Loverro: Artemis I Launch Date Important, But Not the Whole Story

Bridenstine and Loverro: Artemis I Launch Date Important, But Not the Whole Story

Two top NASA officials urged today that the launch date for the Artemis I mission not become the singular focus of attention as the effort to return to the Moon proceeds.  It is just one step. The entire program, including Artemis II and Artemis III, must succeed to meet the objective of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Doug Loverro participated in a fireside chat today at the Space News Awards luncheon.  Bridenstine picked up two awards for NASA and one for himself.  NASA was voted Government Agency of the Year both by the Space News team and as Readers’ Choice.  Bridenstine won the Readers’ Choice award for Government Leader of the Year (Civil).

Space News Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger presents award to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Dec. 10, 2019.  Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Loverro has been on the job for one week after a long career in national security space.  He said this job, putting people back on the Moon, is a “dream of a lifetime.” Bridenstine said Loverro is the right person for the job because of his technical and program management experience; his unique, bipartisan “political savvy” that Bridenstine knows about first hand from when he was a Member of Congress; and his understanding of how to use the machinery as a forcing function to move forward.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, center, speaks along side NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Doug Loverro (right) and Space News senior staff writer Jeff Foust (left), Dec. 10, 2019. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Also receiving an award today was Gen. Jay Raymond who was voted as Government Leader of the Year (Military) by both Space News and the Readers’ Choice.  He and Loverro are old friends and colleagues and bantered about Loverro having learned everything he knows in the Air Force, which is probably true.  Loverro was an Air Force officer for 30 years before retiring and joining the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and later serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.

Gen. John (Jay) Raymond, USAF. Commander, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command. Credit: Air Force

Raymond is currently Commander of U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) and Air Force Space Command (AFSC).  AFSC will become the new U.S. Space Force when the final FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, released yesterday, becomes law.  At that point Raymond will transition into the first Air Force Chief of Space Operations for one year while also continuing as head of USSPACECOM.

Loverro and Bridenstine are strong advocates for the Space Force.  Loverro told moderator Jeff Foust of Space News that he is “happy as a lark” that Space Force is close to reality, but stressed that it is a newborn and “we need to make sure it grows up into the adult that we want.” Concerns persist that it will turn into another bureaucracy.  He semi-jokingly added that Space Force will be needed as NASA returns to the Moon because “we don’t want space pirates” out there.  Bridenstine interjected that it is “past time” for the space domain to have its own service, but “that’s not what NASA does.”  NASA’s role is civil space, but “we will be successful with space commercialization only if space is secure.”

Bridenstine is optimistic about the possibility that NASA’s FY2020 appropriations bill might be enacted before the Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on December 20.  If not, he insists NASA will keep going with Artemis.  As he has said in other venues, he will seek the advice of NASA’s lawyers to see if work on the Human Lander System can begin even though some might consider it a “new” program. Under a CR, new programs may not begin (and existing programs may not be terminated), but since NASA is already working on robotic landers, there may be a path forward.

Loverro was emphatic that whatever happens this year, or in future years, with appropriations, NASA should not use funding or lack thereof as a “crutch.”  Gravity and radiation are obstacles that NASA cannot control and the budget process is simply another.  One must find ways to overcome obstacles.  He hastened to add, to laughter from the audience, that does not mean he does not need the money.

His first step is to get to know his people and make sure they understand it is permissible to tell him what they think and where the problems are.  He has begun an assessment of the status of the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion crew spacecraft, and other parts of the Artemis program to make his own judgment of what is needed to achieve the 2024 date for returning astronauts to the Moon.  He emphasized, however, and Bridenstine agreed, that the focus should not just be on the launch date for Artemis I. That first flight of SLS/Orion without a crew is only one step on the path to the Moon.  “We need to be able to follow that with Artemis II and III,” Loverro said, and he is looking at the whole program.  Bridenstine added that people assume if the date for Artemis I slips it means the other launches will, too, but that is not the case.

Loverro wears a self-made lapel pin that today showed the number 1848.  That is how many days are left to the end of 2024.  Each day he reduces the number by one — a countdown to December 31, 2024.  Its purpose is to remind everyone that there is a deadline, and for those working on the program to celebrate what each is doing that day to make it happen.  Starting in January he will name a “HEO hero” every day to acknowledge the ongoing work.

As for the commercial crew program, Loverro expressed confidence that flights with astronauts will take place in 2020, though he did not offer exact dates.  He noted that the Air Force’s Eastern Range, which includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, is a busy place with a “jammed” schedule.  NASA’s robotic Mars 2020 mission has a fixed launch window so the commercial crew flights may have to work around that as well as other launches.

This was the third annual Space News awards ceremony.  Space News announced the Readers’ Choice winners last month and added the selections of its own editorial team today, some of which were the same.

  • Company of the Year 
    • Rocket Lab won both Space News and Readers’ Choice
  • Corporate Leader of the Year
    • MAXAR CEO Dan Jablonsky won both Space News and Readers’ Choice
  • Startup of the Year
    • Space News, Hawkeye 360|Readers’ Choice, Relativity Space
  • Government Agency of the Year
    • NASA won both Space News and Readers’ Choice
  • Government Leader of the Year (Civil)
    • Space News, ESA Director General Jan Woerner|Readers’ Choice, NASA  Administrator Jim Bridenstine
  • Government Leader of the Year (Military)
    • Gen. Jay Raymond, Commander, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space Command won both Space News and Readers’ Choice
  • Unsung Hero of the Year
    • The Brooke Owens Fellowship won both Space News and Readers’ Choice
  • Turnaround of the Year
    • Space News, Firefly Aerospace|Readers’ Choice, MAXAR
  • Breakthrough of the Year
    • Space News, Space X’s Starlink|Readers’ Choice, Space X’s Starhopper
  • Deal of the Year
    • Space News, Virgin Galactic IPO; Readers’ Choice: Blue Origin Artemis Lander Team
  • Space Stewardship Award
    • Space News, LeoLabs|Readers’ Choice, Iridium

Foust tweeted a photo of many of the winners.

[Those we recognize are:  front row — former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (far left) accepting for the Brooke Owens Fellowship; Micheline Tabache and Sylvie Espinasse (far right), European Space Agency, accepting for ESA DG  Jan Woerner; back row, three men at end on right — Jim Bridenstine (NASA), Gen. Jay Raymond (Air Force Space Command and USSPACECOM), and Hans Koenigsmann (SpaceX).]

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