Reactions Mixed to Pence’s Call for Astronauts on the Moon by 2024

Reactions Mixed to Pence’s Call for Astronauts on the Moon by 2024

Initial reactions are mixed to Vice President Mike Pence’s announcement today of the goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024, just 5 years from now.  Pence made the announcement at a meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, AL where he directed NASA to accomplish that goal “by any means necessary.”

In an emailed statement to, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said:

Rep. Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-Texas)

“This year, as in previous budget requests, President Trump is calling for deep, damaging cuts to much of the nation’s Federal R&D enterprise.  Yet just today, at the same time NASA’s proposed budget would cancel important science missions, [the] Vice President is now saying NASA has to find the money to land astronauts on the Moon—and presumably bring them back safely—within the next five years.  I look forward to hearing from NASA Administrator Bridenstine at next Tuesday’sScience Committee hearing as to how NASA plans to do it and at what cost.” — Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Aviation and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said he wants the focus to remain on reaching Mars.  Via email, a Cruz spokesperson said:

“Sen. Cruz shares the administration’s goal of returning the United States to the moon in the 2020s. However, he believes reaching Mars in the 2030s should be the focal point of our national space program and it should be American boots that are the first to step foot on surface of the Red Planet.”


The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, an industry association that represents many of the companies involved in NASA’s exploration program, said it “applauds” the initiative, but also has concerns.

Though we support the focus of this White House on deep space exploration and the sense of urgency instilled by aggressive timelines and goals, we also are cognizant of the resources that will be required to meet these objectives. Bold plans must be matched by bold resources made available in a consistent manner in order to assure successful execution. Similarly, the contracting mechanisms by which spacecraft, facilities, systems and supporting equipment are incorporated into a robust Moon-to-Mars architecture must be applied in a rapid and flexible manner with only the absolute minimum of bureaucratic process and oversight necessary to succeed. This is especially true for technologies that have long been in use but continue to labor under excessive oversight during development – a burden that exacerbates cost, schedule, and program risks. — Coalition for Deep Space Exploration

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), another industry group, said via email that it “applauds the Vice President’s call today to accelerate America’s return to the lunar surface in 5 years.”  In an op-ed for Florida Today published March 22, CSF Chairman Taber MacCallum and President Eric Stallmer praised the Administration’s interest in using public-private partnerships to achieve such goals.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation supports the President Trump’s budget request to more fully utilize public-private partnership programs and commercial service buys to accelerate cost-effective deep space exploration objectives, including sending landers and astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. — Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the Orion crew spacecraft that will take astronauts to the Moon. Lisa Callahan, Vice President and General Manager for Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin Space issued this statement.

Lockheed Martin fully supports accelerating NASA’s goal of landing humans on the surface of the Moon. We’ve been conducting in-depth studies on what an accelerated landing schedule would require. With the right level of commitment, urgency and resources, humans could walk on the surface by 2024. Our concept would deploy an early version of the Gateway using only its propulsion module and docking port, which puts the critical enabling elements in lunar orbit as quickly as possible. It would also design the crewed lander around proven avionics, structures and propulsion systems from Orion’s crew and service modules, which are already built for human-rated lunar exploration. The assembly of the Orion EM-1 spaceship that will go back to the Moon is nearly complete, and we are already building the EM-2 spacecraft that will take crew to the Moon. This approach delivers an earlier landing capability featuring reusable technology that also lays a foundation for a future expanded, sustainable human presence at the Moon. This is an aggressive but achievable schedule, and could be the catalyst to help jump-start a new era of human exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond.  — Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin

Boeing is the prime contractor for SLS.  It issued the following statement.

SLS is the backbone for a permanent human presence in deep space, for multiple missions to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond. As NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated in his address to the National Space Council, we’re working relentlessly to develop SLS to do what is absolutely necessary to support a NASA launch in 2020.

Boeing and NASA have implemented changes in both processes and technologies to accelerate production, without sacrificing safety or quality, and we remain on schedule to deliver the first SLS core stage to NASA by the end of this year.

As the commercial launch alternative studies have shown, NASA has affirmed that SLS remains the best approach to achieve our lunar objectives with a reconfirmation of the importance of the Exploration Upper Stage by EM-3.  SLS is also the world’s only super heavy rocket capable of safely transporting astronauts to deep space with major payloads like landers, habitats and Gateway elements.

America needs SLS’ deep-space capability in order to maintain our leadership in human space exploration.  We are committed to supporting the vision outlined by Vice President Pence yesterday.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk issued two tweets in response to Pence’s announcement and to a question about whether his Starship system might be ready to land on the Moon in 5 years.  Starship and its Super Heavy rocket are currently under development.  Musk has signed his first customer, a Japanese billionnaire, to fly around the Moon (but not land) in 2023.

Note:  This article has been updated several times.

Note:  The CSF op-ed refers to putting astronauts on the Moon in 2024 and was published four days before Pence’s announcement suggesting that it was aware of it in advance. We have deleted a phrase to that effect in our story because a CSF spokeswoman insists that is not the case and the op-ed authors were basing those comments on their interpretation of NASA budget request documentation.

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