Bridenstine Promises “This Won’t be Lucy and the Football Again”

Bridenstine Promises “This Won’t be Lucy and the Football Again”

At an “industry day” for companies interested in providing commercial lunar payload services, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine thanked them for their interest in moving the country forward in lunar exploration.  Noting that past efforts to send astronauts back to the Moon faltered, he insisted that times have changed and “this won’t be Lucy and the football again.”

The reference is to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip where a girl named Lucy would perpetually promise Charlie Brown that she would hold the football so he could kick it, only to pull it away at the last moment.  Time after time.   It is a metaphor for futile hope that the next time will be different from the last.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Bridenstine explicitly cited the George H.W. Bush Administration’s Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) and President George W. Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) as efforts to return humans to the Moon permanently that did not materialize.  Today, however, he said that the miniaturization of electronics, lower launch costs, potential commercial involvement, and new ways of government contracting will lead to a different result.

“NASA is asking you to help,” he told company representatives meeting at NASA Headquarters to learn about a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.  The draft RFP is “the next step on this path” back to the Moon and someday to Mars.

“This will not be Lucy and the football again.  This time we ARE going to the Moon. … Let’s get to the Moon.”

Earlier in the day, NASA officials laid out the agency’s current thoughts about how to incorporate commercial capabilities into its exploration plans.  The repeated message was that NASA is looking to industry to build lunar landers and rovers that can deliver NASA scientific instruments to the lunar surface.  It will not tell the companies how to build them, but will be “a” customer (not “the” customer) for their capabilities.

Asked about timing, the companies were told that when they are ready to go, NASA will be ready to go. The draft RFP identifies December 31, 2021 as a target date for the first mission, but NASA is hoping it will be sooner, perhaps as early as next year.

NASA plans to award multiple 10-year fixed-price task-order Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts with a minimum value of $25,000 and a maximum of $2.6 billion for each contract.   The first task, which is valued at $25,000, is for each company to provide NASA with a catalog of the capabilities it is offering.  NASA is asking for feedback from the companies on the draft RFP before issuing the final RFP by July 19, 2018.  Proposals will be due 30 days later and NASA expects to award contracts by December 31, 2018.

Johnson Space Center will administer the contracts under the direction of the Planetary Science Division (PSD) of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD).  SMD Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen kicked off the meeting today, stressing that the goal of these missions is science.  The Moon “has a lot of secrets” in science,  he said, noting that “I’m the science guy.”  But it will all help identify lunar resources that can be used for exploration.

The draft RFP is part of a new initiative in NASA’s FY2019 budget request for planetary science — the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program LDEP) — which notionally will be funded at $218 million per year for the next five years. PSD Deputy Director David Schurr said that when NASA does these types of missions they are expensive and infrequent.  With commercial partners, the goal is to make them inexpensive and frequent.

The CLPS opportunities are open only to U.S. companies, but Schurr said the companies can have international partners.  NASA is interested in any company that can do the job of getting American experiments onto the lunar surface.  At first, NASA expects these will be static landers that can operate for only one lunar day (14 Earth days) since surviving the lunar night is a challenge.  But over time, Schurr said. capabilities could grow to longer lived landers, rovers and sample return missions.  “There is excellent science to be done at every step while preparing for human exploration.”

NASA is in the process of prioritizing what science it wants to accomplish, but at a minimum it wants laser retroreflectors on anything that lands on the Moon, according to PSD’s Sarah Noble.  Retroreflectors were attached to the Apollo lunar landers to reflect laser beams from Earth and are used to make precise measurements of the distance between the Earth and the Moon that show, for example, that the Moon is moving away from Earth at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year.   She also said NASA is assessing how best to move forward with the scientific instruments that were being developed for the Resource Prospector mission.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.