Pace: Trump’s Tweet Reflects Impatience

Pace: Trump’s Tweet Reflects Impatience

Scott Pace said today that President Trump’s tweet yesterday reflects impatience, not a lack of support for NASA’s lunar program.  For him, the message was that NASA should spend less time talking about the technical details of getting to the Moon and more about the bigger vision of putting humans on Mars.  In discussing the lunar plans, Pace said the U.S. part of the Gateway will remain in its minimalist form until the International Space Station (ISS) is retired because NASA cannot afford both.

Pace is Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council.  Speaking at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference in Arlington, VA, he was asked to clarify the President’s tweet, which took the space community by surprise.

After repeating the White House response released late yesterday afternoon, Pace added that his experience is that policy is very simple: “bigger, higher, farther, faster, now.”  Going to the Moon is part of the bigger vision of going to Mars, but he and people at NASA involved in executing the vision sometimes get lost in the details of what must get done immediately.

“We don’t always do a good job at speaking to the larger vision that this is part of.  The President … is going, OK, I hear all that, but  … why aren’t we talking about Mars? …  What’s he’s doing is stepping back and expressing, I think, an understandable impatience with how long all of that takes and misses the bigger picture as people like me are coming to him coloring hard on immediate problems.  That is what I took away from it.”  Scott Pace

Some may disagree with his interpretation since it does not address Trump’s comments about defense and science as higher priorities, for example, but that is how he sees it as a White House staffer.

During his prepared remarks, Pace outlined the architecture NASA is working to right now to achieve the lunar part of the vision.  NASA plans to build a small space station, the Gateway, in lunar orbit as a transfer point between Earth and the lunar surface.  Originally it was to be built by 2028, but when Vice President Pence accelerated the lunar landing to 2024, the plans for Gateway had to change.

Now it will have a “minimal” configuration, with only the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and a mini-habitation module in 2024.  NASA has said repeatedly that the original capabilities with full-size habitation modules and scientific research facilities would be restored thereafter.

The question is when.  NASA still talks about 2028 as a milestone, but Pace said that U.S. expansion of the Gateway will not happen until after the ISS is decommissioned because NASA cannot afford both.  When U.S. government support of ISS will end is an open question, but key members of Congress want it to operate at least until 2030.

Pace told via email afterwards that his comments refer only to the U.S. portion of the Gateway, not what international partners may contribute. Canada has committed to supplying a robotic arm, Canadarm3, similar to those it built for the space shuttle and the ISS. Discussions with other potential partners like Japan, Russia and the European Space Agency are ongoing.

Prior to the March 26 acceleration of NASA’s return to the lunar surface, NASA released an illustration of what the Gateway might look like with contributions from those countries, all partners in the ISS.

Illustration of Gateway configuration showing international contributions, March 11, 2019. Credit: NASA

The minimalist Gateway configuration now envisioned for 2024 has only the PPE and a mini-habitat.  In the illustration below, the Gateway is only the portion within the circle at the bottom center plus the solar panels extending into the foreground and background.  The larger cylindrical spacecraft pointing upwards is a notional lunar landing vehicle. The Orion spacecraft, with its European Service Module, that will ferry astronauts from Earth to the Gateway, is also shown.  They dock to the Gateway, but are not part of it.

Illustration of the “minimailst” Gateway needed to support human lunar landings in 2024. The Gateway is within the circle in the bottom center, plus the solar arrays that extend into the foreground and background. Also shown is a lunar landing vehicle and an Orion spacecraft with its European Service Module.  They will dock to the Gateway.



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